Internet stakeholders in Zimbabwe met in Harare on 21 September 2017 during MISA Zimbabwe’s second Internet Governance Multi-Stakeholder Conference to assess the status of digital rights in the country.
The conference, held under the theme Promoting Freedom, Privacy and Security on the Internet, focused on current legislative processes to enact a cyber crimes and cyber-security law and internet access patterns in the country.
In his keynote address, Deputy Minister of ICT, Postal and Courier Service, Dr Win Mlambo, said government recognises the importance of stakeholders convening to reach consensus on the regulation and development of the internet in Zimbabwe.
He recognised the value of the ‘symbiotic relationship’ created throughmulti stakeholder dialogue despite the challenges in striking a balance between privacy, security, freedom and business interests of profit making.
“An acknowledgement of this symbiotic relationship here in Zimbabwe is demonstrated by the adoption of the resolutions of the first Multi stakeholder held in 2015 …” said Mlambo.
The Ministry of Information and Communication Technologies, Postal and Courier Services, members of the Zimbabwe Internet Governance Forums (ZIGF), Multi-Stakeholder Co-ordinating Team (MCT), and its secretariat, the Postal and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (POTRAZ), were in attendance. Individual parliamentarians that attended were drawn from the two Portfolio Committees on ICT’s and the Media Information and Broadcasting Services.
MCT Committee Member, Cade Zvavanjanja said work of the National Internet Governance Forum had been limited by poor stakeholder involvement, lack of alternative funding and sponsorship.
He said since the launch of the ZIGF in June 2015, only POTRAZ hadchanneled funds to its activities. On whether the current funding model was by ‘default or design’, Zvavanjanja said ZIGF was open to transparent and strategic collaboration and funding.
Stakeholders challenged the ZIGF to make an open call for collaboration and funding from stakeholders onannouncement of the date for the next forum. This year’s forum which will be held in last quarter of 2017, is expected to appoint new MCT members.
During the opening of the fifth session of parliament on 12 September 2017, President Robert Mugabe listed the draft Cybercrimes andCyber security Bill, as one of the laws that would be tabled in parliament by the end of the year.
Currently, a third version of the law is with drafters in the Attorney-General’s Office following the conducting of two consultative meetings in Harare and Bulawayo.
Over 100 stakeholders that included members of civil society, online social movements, media and online content producers, academia, service providers, innovators and ordinary users also attended the conference.
Assessing the Cybercrimes Bill
Panelists in a session that analysed the Cybercrimes Bill agreed that although efforts had been made towards complying with the Declaration of Rights as enshrined in the Zimbabwean Constitution as wellas adherence to national and public interest, a lot more still need to be done.
“ Although there is evidence of the inclusion of stakeholders input gathered during the consultative meetings, some contentious provisions which appear to have been removed are still in the current draft,” said Media Law Consultant, JacquelineChikakano.
One such provision is that of the Forensic tool, which appeared in the first two drafts of the Computer Crimes and Cyber Crimes Bill, as the law was previously titled.
In her presentation,Chikakano noted that although advocacy against the provision on the Forensic tool had clearly stated that the provision lacked measures to guard against continual access to data beyond authorisation, the provision now finds itself in Section 36 (1) (c) on collection of data traffic.
Similarly, while it would seem the provisionon Assistance is removed from the current draft, an element of it is included in Section 34 on Expedited Preservation. The section outlines that a magistrate may order any person in control of required data to collect, record or preserve the data.
Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) representative Dzimbabwe Chimbga, said some of the new definitions in the Bill were too broad and open to abuse.
New definitions in the draft bill include definitions of Minister; Cybercrime; Service provider; Criminal law code; Critical database; Pornography; Programme; Service; System. In particular, Chimbga singled out the definition of pornography, which he said, could affect artistic work and in the long run, freedom of expression. Pornography was a stand-alone offence in previous bills.
The five-minute digital rights lightning talks that preceded the Cybercrimes session highlighted lived experiences of everyday users, online social and sex and sexuality activists in Zimbabwe.
Feminist activist, Fungai Machirori, said the internet is an extension of offline patriarchal practices. She demonstrated this by analysing the different reactions and responses to women and men whose sex tape is leaked.
In the past, women whose intimate images wereleaked, did not only lose their dignity, but in some instances, as is the case with Actress and Radio Personality, Tinopona Katsande, lost their jobs.
Said digital security trainer, Natasha Msonza:
“There is no digital world and a real world, just as there are no human rights and digital rights. The two are not mutually exclusive,” she said.
Online social movement,#Tajamuka activist, Donald Mavhudzi, noted that social media has helped further the cause of activism in Zimbabwe. He, however, noted that the number and nature of arrests of activists and ordinary internet users expressing themselves on social media platforms, demonstrated the need for government to respect free expression as a right.
Mavhudzi said disruption of the WhatsApp service during a nationwide stayaway on 6 July 2016, demonstrated how far the authorities can go to limit free expression.
Politics of Access
Internet Services Providers, Facebook , Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) and Telco Zimbabwe, among others, had the opportunity to discuss access to the internet in Zimbabwe by tackling determinants of high cost and usage trends.
Telco Business development manager, Dumisani Nkala, who spoke largely to broadband access in Zimbabwe said data costs in the country remained high because of other underlying costs that service providersface.. She said by creating special subsidised data bundles, Zimbabwean mobile network operators were guilty of reducing the utilitarian value of the internet.
Online local satirist content platform, BustopTV representative, Silvia Mukwindidza, said bundling of data was an advantage for independent online content producers as it allows them to serve as an alternative to mainstream media.
She said WhatsApp and the coming of Facebook Live earlier this year, has increased opportunities for and access to important issues of national interest for citizens to debate, although interaction is done in a banal manner most of the times.
Facebook Southern Africa Public Policy Manager, Emilar Vushe- Gandhi said there isneed for African states to go beyond penetration rates when measuring access. She said access to information is about connectedness. It should also be taken into consideration that the digital divide becomes wide due to income levels, rural-urban divide, the educated and not so educated.
Asked on Facebook’s progress in partnering with players in the country to offer a zero-rated service in Zimbabwe, she said ‘talks are still underway’
Remote participation by ICANN’s Stakeholder Engagement Manager for East Africa, Bob Ochieng focused on the recently launched Africa Domain Name System (DNS) report.
Ochieng said one of the recommendations emphasised the need for country registries to lower costs of local domain registration in order to grow the DNS market. He noted that local domain names are part of the internet infrastructure of any country. Ochieng said efforts should be made through policy to ensure they are affordable and that users privacy and security is protected to boost the local content industry market.