There’s a new twist to the story of the unsolicited text messages that some ZANU PF candidates sent to individuals who never gave them their contact details. I don’t know if it’s accurate to say ZANU PF candidates sent the messages when some candidates told us they were shocked to hear messages had gone out with their names in the body soliciting for votes.
The messages were probably sent centrally. ZANU PF admitted to sending the messages (well they couldn’t deny) but they said they sent to their supporters who had attended meetings within their party cell structures. This may not be true since some of the people who got the messages claimed to have never done such. The big question then remains: where did they get the database? A very accurate database that allowed them to address people by name and also to target them for the specific area they live.
The first to be pointed to was of course the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) who immediately denied giving that data to political parties. In their denial ZEC suggested that Mobile Network Operators have this kind of data that they sell to third parties. As far as we know, only Econet subscribers had these messages sent to them.
Econet issued a statement saying they do not sell nor give access to people’s data to any third parties except the telecoms regulator: POTRAZ. POTRAZ then issued their own statement reiterating that MNO’s are not allowed to sell data to third parties. The minister of ICT and Cybersecurity did not address this one specifically but responded to the issue of the voters roll which was uploaded unto the internet by some organisation. The uploaded voters roll has no phone numbers though so the question is still unanswered: where did ZANU PF get people’s phone numbers?
New twist, lawyer does what lawyers do
Masvingo lawyer, Owen Mafa of Mutendi, Mudisi and Shumba Legal Practitioners is one of the many that also got a personalised message from ZANU PF. The message solicited his vote for the ZANU PF parliamentary candidate for his area, John Paradza and the ZANU PF presidential candidate President Emmerson Mnangagwa.
Mafa did not take kindly to this and he approached the High Court suing Econet, ZEC, ZANU PF and John Paradza. Yes, in that order: Econet as first respondent and Paradza as fourth respondent. Here is part of the lawyer’s submission:
On July 7, 2018, I was puzzled to receive a message from the second and fourth respondent on my contact details that I had solely provided to the third respondent. The messages were sent on my mobile number wherein the second and fourth respondent were urging me to vote for them and their presidential candidate Emmerson Dambudzo Mnangagwa. I had not at any time consented to the conduct of the second and fourth respondents. I am advised that the first respondent’s conduct of facilitating the conduct of second and fourth respondent contravenes the provisions of the Postal and Telecommunication Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (Regulatory Circular on Unsolicited Bulk SMS) Regulatory Circular No. 2 of 2013 as read together with Section 4 of the Postal and Telecommunications Act Chapter 12.05 of 2000. The conduct of the respondents was therefore unlawful and should be declared as such.
From the above, Mafa is not suing Econet for giving ZANU PF access to his data or phone number but for permitting ZANU PF to send the message to him without him agreeing to be sent such messages. The lawyer refers to a regulatory circular issued by POTRAZ way back in 2013 that prohibits mobile operators from sending or allowing the sending of bulk messages to users who have not agreed to receive them.
Part of the circular reads:
Whilst SMS advertising is welcome, thes messages become unsolicited if they are without subscriber consent to receive them.
This is an interesting one.