Communist dictator Mugabe approves surveillance law allowing state monitoring of Internet, phones

Monday Aug 6, 2007

HARARE, Zimbabwe: President Robert Mugabe has approved a law that will give the government sweeping powers to monitor the Internet and mobile and fixed telephones in a country where the independent press has been gagged.

The official Herald newspaper said Saturday that the Interception of Communications Act would allow the government to "sift for information it deems subversive or used for organized crime."

The law allows "certain communications to be intercepted or monitored in the course of their transmission through telecommunications or the postal service and sets up a monitoring and interception center," it said.

Critics argue that the law will restrict freedom of speech still further and allow the secret police to monitor the communications of the political opposition, journalists and human rights activists.

The government denies any sinister intent, saying it is for security reasons and merely puts its anti-terrorism legislation in line with international practice.

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

"The minister of transport and communication will be mandated with issuing a warrant to authorized persons where there is reasonable suspicion that a serious offense has been or is being committed or that there is a threat to national security," the Herald said.

It said that the chief of defense intelligence, the head of Mugabe's Department of National Security, the country's police commissioner and the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority were all authorized to request the surveillance.

A 2003 law already gave the government draconian powers over the media, and effectively closed the independent press. Government repression has increased even further this year with a ban on all demonstrations.

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