Yesterday we broke the news that the entire Voters’ Roll had been uploaded to the internet with all personal information about the over 5 million registered voters available. Information includes addresses, sex, ID numbers… We obviously did not agree with this as it makes basically the whole nation vulnerable to identity thieves, stalkers or plain mischief makers.
The minister responds
Supa Mandiwanzira who is the minister of Information Communication Technology and Cybersecurity responded to this development and he obviously denounced it. Here’s his statement:
The Ministry of ICT & Cyber Security condemns in the strongest of terms the publication on the Internet of the voters roll which includes addresses and phone numbers of the voters. This cyber security breach is unacceptable.
The Ministry is aware that the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission issued a protected copy of the roll while the one that has been published on the internet is unprotected. Such data cannot and should not be made public without the permission of the voters themselves. Publication of physical addresses and phone numbers of voters without their authority is an abuse of the internet just as it is unconstitutional.
The ministry will not hesitate take action against those found to be undermining the people’s right to privacy. The ministry hereby warns those that are publishing the unprotected voters roll and the internet service provider hosting the site to cease their actions immediately.
The ministry will not hesitate take action against those found to be undermining the people’s right to privacy.
Hon Supa Collins Mandiwanzira Minister 10 July 2018
The minister mentions details that have been uploaded to the internet to include people’s addresses and phone numbers. We are not aware of any such ‘leaked’ roll that has phone numbers too. That is not to say there is no such.
The issue of ZANU PF candidates sending messages
Minister Mandiwanzira did not say anything about politicians within ZANU PF who sent out unsolicited text messages to members of the public. These members obviously used quite an accurate database because people got messages that addressed them by name and the messages were coming from the relevant ZANU PF candidate for the constituency they reside and will vote in.
The candidates themselves claimed to not be the ones who sent the messages when we asked a few of them, they probably thought and may be right that this was done centrally. Since all the messages that we know of that were sent were sent to Econet subscribers, Econet had to respond and distance themselves.
The telecoms regulator POTRAZ also said they did not give anyone the MNO’s database which they have access to as a regulator. They also said they do not allow any of the operators to give such data to third parties.
Back to the voters roll
As much as we do not agree with the voters roll being uploaded onto the internet by any well meaning person, the issue may not be just about the roll being available online. The voters roll can be purchased by anyone from ZEC for very little money and that could be the problem.
The solution is not to simply then deny access either. Transparency is very important when it comes to this document. Maybe the Australian system is best. Their version of this roll can only be viewed from electoral offices across their country. This allows for inspection by anyone who wants to inspect but without allowing anyone who wants to just buy a database of the whole country and take it home.
Some are already busy gleaning the Zim roll for information that they can use to spam and market their products.
No easy answers
As with all things life, this issue is nuanced. How do you have ultimate transparency without the risk of privacy violations? How do you guard against privacy violations without stifling transparency? To make matters worse, both extremes are pushed for by politicians and activists. Unfortunately, most times- politicians and activists have tunnel vision they can burn a whole house down to get to a cockroach.