Government says fraud, fake news demand stricter digital-platform laws

The Communications minister is defending government's plans to more tight control of social media use, saying the government is concerned about scams and other Internet abuses.

Brian Mushimba, the Transport and Communications minister, said in a statement that more than 600 Zambians have lost tens of thousands of dollars through digital platforms. The country had more than 14 million mobile users at the end of 2017, accounting for 82 percent of the market, and that’s a trend the government encourages – but not at the expense of the security of its citizens.

“We want as many Zambians as possible to embrace the digital transformation, to get onto social media and e-platforms and for them to use these platforms productively,” he said in a response to questions from opposition UPND MP Jack Mwimbu.

Yet Mushimba blamed a small minority of users who are “notoriously using” the platforms to steal identities, spread false news, and scam people out of money.

“Most users of the Internet in Zambia can testify to the offensive or inciting nature of some messages found in our digital ecosystem,” Mushimba said.

The minister on Thursday told parliament the government plans to introduce strict new laws, expected to go into effect in 2019, to better regulate Zambia’s online communications. While Mushimba did not offer specifics, the announcement has raised alarm over democratic freedoms and digital rights.

Edgar Lungu’s administration has raised concern in recent years over repression of those freedoms, including frequent targeting of opposition politicians, harassment of journalists and an arbitrary state of emergency declared last year. Zambians were warned about their social media use last year after a civil service worker was arrested for a Facebook post.

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