BY PRIVILEGE GUMBODETE
AFRICAN governments, Zimbabwe included, are using sophisticated surveillance equipment to snoop on citizens and to quash dissenting voices.
This is contained in a report compiled by the International Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa CIPESA — an ICT research watchdog founded in 2004.
The report confirmed that Zimbabwe is using Israel spy technology which exploits loopholes in the telecommunications system to access private information.
“Botswana, Equatorial Guinea, Kenya, Morocco, Nigeria, Zambia and Zimbabwe are among the countries named as likely to be using Circles’ surveillance platforms to exploit flaws in telecoms systems to access telephone calls, SMS messages and location services, which were supplied by the firm affiliated with the Israel-based NSO Group,” the report read in part.
This comes after President Emmerson Mnagagwa signed into law the controversial Cybersecurity and Data Protection Bill which has been criticised by civil society organisations and opposition parties.
The Bill contains provisions which undermine freedom of expression and freedom of the media that are codified in section 61 of the Constitution.
The CIPESA said Zimbabwe was among countries using spy surveillance to entrench political control, including targeted profiling and spying on government critics.
“The continued rise in surveillance cannot be divorced from the growing affronts to digital civic space in the region,” the report read.
“State surveillance is a key component of wider efforts by a significant number of African governments deployed in an ever-expanding raft of measures to undermine and clamp down on their citizens’ ability to openly and freely use digital technologies. Such control measures are specifically aimed at curtailing expression and organising activities that are critical of governments and State officials.
“These controls are heightened in instances where the ruling parties’ hold on power is threatened such as in times of political contestation, including during protests, political rallies, elections, referenda, and political debates on constitutional change, governance, corruption and accountability.”
CIPESA also said despotic governments were enacting draconian laws to intimidate and prosecute government critics.
“Some governments conduct misinformation and disinformation campaigns on the one hand, but on the other, introduce “false news” laws which are deployed by State security agencies to silence, intimidate, harass, detain, and prosecute government critics and thus perpetuate State narratives on any given issue.”
Clause 164C of the Data Protection Bill criminalises the spread of what the government classified as false information, punishable with a jail term of up to five years, or fine, or both.
CIPESA added: “Surveillance undermines the privacy of communications and the right to anonymity, and consequently leads to self-censorship and the withdrawal of some individuals and groups from the online public sphere.
“Moreover, surveillance systems, both targeted and mass, “may undermine the right to form an opinion, as the fear of unwilling disclosure of online activity, such as search and browsing, likely deters individuals from accessing information, particularly were such surveillance leads to repressive outcomes”