The decision by the Zambian government to introduce a cybersecurity bill has received mixed reactions from the cross section of the society.
Recently, the Cabinet approved the introduction and publication of a bill to introduce the law on cybersecurity and cybercrimes.
Chief government spokesperson Dora Siliya said the move follows the approval of the National Cyber Security policy by the Cabinet last month, Xinhua reported.
According to the spokesperson, the introduction of the cybersecurity law is meant to promote the responsible use of social media platforms as well as ensure the provision of cybersecurity in the country.
The bill has since been introduced in parliament for discussion by lawmakers.
Currently, the Parliamentary Committee Joint Committee on Media, Information and Communication Technologies and National Security and Foreign Affairs is sitting to get submissions from various stakeholders before the Parliament starts deliberating on it.
Among the contentious provisions in the bill include monitoring and interception of electronic communication as well as any other information using the internet.
The bill has also provided for the establishment of a Central Monitoring and Coordination Center through which intercepted communication and call-related information will be forwarded.
However, stakeholders believe that there is more to the law and that the draft bill, if passed, will stifle freedom of expression.
Richard Mulonga, Chief Executive Officer of Bloggers of Zambia, says there is no need for the government to rush into enacting the bill into law especially as the country heads towards the general elections.
Instead of rushing to enact the law, he feels that the government should instead raise awareness and educate citizens on cybersecurity.
Linda Kasonde, executive director of Chapter One Foundation and former president of the Law Association of Zambia (LAZ) urged citizens to take an interest in the bill because it has far-reaching implications. She said in an interview on private television, Diamond TV, that the bill has huge implications on freedom of expression, freedom of the media, and the right to privacy.
A consortium of civil society organizations has since urged lawmakers to take into consideration the concerns from stakeholders. While acknowledging the need to ensure the safety of the public against cybersecurity threats, the organizations feel that this needs to be balanced with the right to freedom of expression and the need to maintain the right to privacy.
“While the bill contains progressive provisions particularly with regard to the cybersecurity of children, we note several provisions that have the potential to facilitate and even enhance the wanton surveillance and censorship of members of the public through interception of communications,” the organizations said in a statement.
The organizations are also concerned that there have been few consultations with all stakeholders in the drafting process of the bill, adding that consultations would have allowed for the resolving of issues being raised.
But the government has defended the bill, saying it is meant to protect people’s rights and not to take away any rights. Minister of Transport and Communication Mutotwe Kafwaya said people should be happy that the bill will provide protection for people against any infringement of their rights.
He said the bill is targeting people who abuse others using social platforms, adding that innocent citizens should be happy that they will be a law to protect them.
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting Services Permanent Secretary Amos Malupenga described the bill as progressive and that the government’s interest stems from its responsibility to ensure the safety of all citizens as they communicate using online platforms.