Zimbabwe laws tightened to stamp out cyber abuse


HARARE – Zimbabwe continues to strengthen its information and knowledge society to protect against abuse of digital information dissemination platforms, Postal and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (Potraz) director general Dr Gift Machengete told the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS).

With the Covid-19 pandemic reshaping various aspects of society, not least information dissemination, there is now greater use of online platforms for communication and information dissemination.

But the increased use of these digital platforms has been accompanied by a lot of unethical behaviour.

And beyond that, online platforms are increasingly rife with criminal activity, with estimates indicating that cybercrime costs to the global economy are in the region of US$500 billion per year.

Addressing an WSIS high-level policy session on ‘Ethical dimensions of information and knowledge societies’ yesterday Dr Machengete acknowledged a growing trend of internet abuse.

“While privacy data breaches in Zimbabwe have not been as spectacular as incidents like the 2013 Yahoo data breach, which compromised over 3 billion user accounts, or the over 10 major incidences of hospital and medical data breaches in the USA in 2019, Zimbabwean companies have also experienced some data breaches,” said Dr Machengete.

“Recently, one of the country’s citizens had her Covid-19 results published in the press, complete with her name and address, before she had even received the results from the testing centre.

“The results also went viral on social media and people panicked when they saw her.”

But Dr Machengete also highlighted measures being put in place to ensure that Zimbabwe’s information and knowledge society remains a safe space.

“Zimbabwe has come up with policies that encourage both the public and private sector to secure their computer systems and websites.

“The local banks have robust firewall systems to ensure safe transactions. Laws in place include copyright and intellectual property laws.

“The right to privacy is enshrined in the constitution, while confidentiality contracts are the norm in inter-company transactions and consultancy arrangements, as well as cross border transactions,” he said.

“A new cybersecurity and data protection Bill is due to become law soon, to enhance the existing laws. Universities use plagiarism checkers to ensure that students do not commit this offence.”

The incoming cyber security law, for instance, is aimed at consolidate cyber related offences and provide for data protection with due regard to the Declaration of Rights under the Constitution and the public and national interest, to establish a Cyber Security Centre and a Data Protection Authority in the country.

With regards to the protection of minors online, the Potraz boss commended the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) for its recently Published Child Online Protection Guidelines.

Over the last few years, Zimbabwe’s telecommunications regulator has embarked on aggressive consumer education and awareness programs on issues such as online protection.

However, these have been halted due to the Covid-19 pandemic and the requirements for social distancing measures. Potraz has resorted to educating the public on these matters through virtual methods including radio programs and social media. – Herald