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State Surveillance Worries Media Watchdog

MUTARE- The Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) Zimbabwe chapter has expressed concerns over state surveillance by the state which in turn limits citizens from freely expressing themselves, which is against democratic principles as stated in the constitution.

In a strongly worded communique, MISA said the right to privacy in Zimbabwe is increasingly under threat following remarks by the executive that the government successfully tracked locations of certain individuals and their communication details.

MISA said state surveillance should be lawful and based on a warrant authorized by a court of law through the judicial officers and for a specific and legitimate purpose, to curb wielding of extra-judicial powers.

The media watchdog warned that discriminate or targeted surveillance are both ‘disproportionate and uncalled for and amount to a grave violation of the right to privacy’ and should be carried out under strict legal guidelines.

MISA said these developments are compounding already weak privacy protection laws and issues of surveillance noted in terms of the Cybersecurity and Data Protection Bill, under formulation, which places too much power on a regulating authority.

“The trend of surveillance in Zimbabwe, and in view of such sentiments by government officials, are worrisome particularly in light of the fact that the country currently does not have a data protection framework.

“The Bill proposes to impose three roles under the Postal and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (POTRAZ), being that it remains as the telecommunications regulator and also becomes the Cybersecurity Centre and Data Protection Authority.

“This is despite the fact that the independence of POTRAZ is questionable due to the overarching role of the Executive, both in the appointment of its Board of Directors and also in its operations,” reads part of the statement.

MISA Zimbabwe said just like their reservations in 2007 over the Interception of Communications Act which regulates the interception of communications, including telephonic communications, postal telecommunications as well as Internet-based communications in Zimbabwe, should be aligned to the Constitution.

“The government should only legitimize surveillance when it has placed comprehensive oversight mechanisms that prevent over-surveillance and extra-judicial surveillance,”said MISA.

MISA Zimbabwe noted that the government, through its various institutions and stakeholders, should respect the Constitution as the supreme law of the land and ensure that any limitations to Constitutional rights are lawful and proportionate.

“Unjustified infringements to the right to privacy results in self-censorship as citizens will be afraid to communicate freely, fearing that their communications will be availed to other third parties.

“MISA Zimbabwe is concerned by what seems to be targeted surveillance at critics of the government and dissenting voices. This is a grave departure from the letter and spirit of the Constitution which calls on the State and all institutions and administrative authorities to respect, protect and promote the Declaration of Rights as set out in the Constitution.

“International standards and best practices stress that any limitation to fundamental rights should pass the three-pronged test on legality, necessity and proportionality.

“Zimbabwe should also be guided accordingly to ensure the right to privacy is fully respected,” said MISA.

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