Monday, July 24, 2006

Zim to spy on cellphones, email

The government denies any sinister intent, saying it is putting its anti-terrorism legislation in line with international practice. But Zimbabwe is not on the front lines of the war on terror, and government agents could use the proposed powers to monitor the communications of the political opposition, journalists and human rights activists who are critical of President Robert Mugabe.

Secret police and intelligence agents could violate attorney-client privilege, track financial transactions and negotiations, and eavesdrop on anyone's private life. Anytime a Zimbabwean visits a Web site, makes a deal or tells a joke, Big Brother could be listening or watching.

Internet and cell phone service providers would, at their own expense, have to provide the government with equipment to sort and intercept communications.

The aim "is to monitor and block communications for political reasons and to use information they get to persecute opponents," said Lovemore Madhuku, chairman of the National Constitutional Assembly, a group critical of repressive laws and actions of Mugabe's government.

Telephoned from neighboring South Africa, he said: "It is part and parcel of the process of controlling dissent and stifling democratic debate."

South Africa has quietly adopted a similar law, with the important difference that a court must approve any interception. In Zimbabwe, that authority would rest solely with Mugabe's minister of transport and communications....

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