BULAWAYO – A new law that allows government security agents to spy on citizens’ phone conversations has been met with mixed views by members of the public here.
Previously, government could snoop on citizens’ phones when it was absolutely necessary, usually when following up criminal or other serious offences.
In such cases, permission had to be sought through the courts.
But a new statutory instrument gazetted last Friday compels telecommunications companies to setup a central subscriber data base for all users which would be released to law enforcement agents on demand.
The law also compels companies to disclose subscriber data upon receiving a written request signed by a law enforcement agent who is not below the rank of assistant commissioner of police or a coordinate rank in any other law enforcement agency.
Telecommunication companies will no longer be allowed to activate any sim card that is not fully registered and providing false information upon registering a sim card is now an offence.
The new law allows the government’s security agents to spy into people’s telephone call records, text messages and internet communications.
People interviewed by the Daily News in the city expressed outrage at what most described as an invasion of their privacy.
“It is an invasion of human rights and privacy, absolutely disgusting and it is not fair,” Carol Nicolas said.
Carol’s husband Dadly Nicolas said: “It is an act that restricts freedom of expression, it is not in the constitution and therefore it is wrong.”
David Tshuma said a phone is a personal asset and whatever message he communicates was none of the government’s business.
“Maybe they want to trace baba Jukwa. But it is not fair for us,” university student, Tafara Ncube said.
His peer Leeroy Moyo said: “It is not a good idea to spy on innocent civilians and perhaps the agencies have been spying on people’s phones from long back only to formalise it now.”
Government’s intention to do keyholes on its citizens also received support from some.
“It is fair for both sides, the government has a mandate to control everything in the country because it has powers security wise and people need to be protected as well,” Nqobani Ndlovu said.
In South Africa, a similar law was withdrawn after a public outcry.