30 May 2006
Government publishes official announcement of controversial bill to legalise interception of communications
(MISA/IFEX) - In a Government Gazette released on 26 May 2006, the government has "gazetted" [made public] its proposed Interception of Communications Bill, 2006. The bill, if passed by parliament, will make it legal for state agencies to spy upon and intercept telephone conversations, postal items and e-mail messages of private citizens.
The bill also seeks to empower the chief of defence intelligence, the director-general of the Central Intelligence Organisation, the commissioner of Police and the commissioner general of the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority to intercept telephone, e-mail and mobile phone messages. The above persons, who occupy critical offices in terms of the economic and political security of the state, shall be empowered to make representations to the transport and communications minister, or any other minister to whom the functions can be assigned by the president, for the interception of specified persons' communications.
The bill further seeks to create a monitoring centre whose function shall be to facilitate authorised interception of communications.
The bill is intended to allow the issuing of an order for the interception of communications on reasonable grounds or if it is believed that a serious offence has been, is being or will be committed or that there is a threat to safety or "national security" of the country, or the information might be of compelling national economic interests of the country. Such an order will be valid for 3 months and can be renewed every month until such a time that the intended interception has been undertaken.
MISA-Zimbabwe notes that the gazetting of the bill is most unfortunate as it comes despite a Supreme Court ruling in 2004 which declared unconstitutional Sections 98 and 103 of the Posts and Telecommunications (PTC) Act. These sections of the PTC Act provided for the interception of communications if the President of Zimbabwe deemed it to be in the interests of national security and the maintenance of law and order. This legal challenge was brought to the Supreme Court and won by the Law Society of Zimbabwe on the basis that the aforementioned clauses of the PTC Act violated Sections 18 and 20 of the Constitution.
Section 18 guarantees the right of an accused person to a fair trial while Section 20 guarantees freedom of expression that is defined as the freedom to receive and impart ideas without interference.