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Civil society orgs, govt clash over cyber security Bills

Civil society organisations in Zambia, including the Zambia Centre for Social Development (ZCSD), Bloggers of Zambia and Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA), have demanded that government halt the process of enacting three cyber security Bills.

The organisations have accused lawmakers of overlooking their participation in deliberation over the Cyber Security and Cybercrime Bill, Data Protection Bill and Electronic Commerce and Transaction Bill, before these are sent to parliament.

They add that the government should rather focus on strengthening existing cyber crime laws instead of introducing "bills that have been hidden from the public."

In a statement signed by ZCSD executive director Lewis Mwape, the organisations express their concern that the country's democracy, civil liberties and freedoms are now under threat.

Mwape said the process of enacting the cyber laws should be halted to allow for wider consultation with stakeholders.

"While civil society organisations in Zambia recognise the importance of the need to address online harassment, identity and data theft, local organisations demand that these should not hinder or further diminish freedoms of expressions, association and peaceful assembly," he said.

Southern African Centre for Constructive Resolution of Disputes (SACCORD) executive director Boniface Chembe said the proposed bills are a threat meant to deter people from criticising the government.

"These bills by the government should not go through without being scrutinised by members of the public," Chembe said.

Dora Siliya, Minister of Information and Broadcasting Services, confirmed that while locals will only really know the content of the Bills when they are placed before parliament, there would still be opportunity to engage in debate.

If enacted, Zambia will join other countries such as Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania that have come up with cyber laws following increased concern of abuse of social media.