Panos Institute Southern Africa (PSAf) urges the Zambian government to ensure that the proposed laws to control the use of information and communication technologies (ICTs) do not impede smooth flow of information.
The Minister of Transport and Communications Mr. Brian Mushimba recently announced to the media that Government wants to ‘develop firewalls in the cyberspace to prevent digital information from landing in wrong hands’, and that ‘Government wants to have a helicopter view of its cyberspace to detect possible cybercrime’. Minister Mushimba said the government would introduce four laws, namely the Cyber Security Bill, Cyber Crime Bill, Electronic Commerce Bill and the Data Protection Bill.
To that effect, we encourage the government to consult widely with media organisations, online firms and the users and promoters of social media and ICTs before developing bills and enacting laws. This will help ensure the laws do not expose citizens to unscrupulous characters or hinder their enjoyment of the right to privacy and freedom of information. We also urge the government to exercise caution and guard against any gaps that may result in the laws restricting citizens from using ICTs to seek, receive and share information.
If the process is properly handled, the laws can protect citizens from cyberbullies, scammers, fraudsters, child pornography and online identity theft. However, if not properly handled the laws have potential to restrict citizens access to information and hamper the enjoyment of fundamental human rights such as the right to information and right to privacy. We therefore appeal to the government to exercise great caution, put in place measures or systems to mitigate against potential risks of abuse of the laws to infringe on citizens’ rights.
It is our hope that the laws open the online and ICTs media space and enhance access to information. We also hope the government will support the laws with policies and systems to ensure groups that are currently marginalised in online platforms, such as the rural poor also benefit from the opportunities presented by ICTs. This will contribute to reducing the digital divide which is still very wide in Zambia.
For the last two decades, the Zambian people have been urging for the opening of information sharing spaces through the enactment of Access to Information laws. In the same way the government is coming up with several laws to control the use of ICTs, we call on the government to expedite the enactment of the Access to Information law.
We are of the view that the Access to Information law is more urgent than the proposed cyber laws, considering that current laws in the Penal Code, the Computer Crimes and Misuse Act and the Copyright and Performance Rights Acts and the acts of private companies have provisions to handle cyber-crime and related issues.
Panos urges the Zambian government not to fall into the trap of knee-jerk reactions based on information on social media that might not be in their favour.
Executive Director, Panos Institute Southern Africa (PSAf)