So despite a baldfaced lying attempt by the Deputy Minister of Information on national television that the government did not shutdown the internet we have it on good authority they did indeed force Econet and other Internet Access Providers to shutdown the internet.
So what is the government trying to hide here? What do they not want us to know? In an early article we revealed that Mr Masiyiwa (founding director of Econet) said that Econet was complying with a lawful directive when they shutdown the internet. Econet themselves send a message to some subscribers in which they stated that:
Further to a warrant issued by the Minister of State in the President¿s Office for National Security through the Director General of the President¿s Dept,acting in terms of the Interception of Communications Act,Internet Services are currently suspended across all networks and Internet Service providers.We are obliged to act when directed to do so and the matter is beyond our control.All inconveniences are sincerely regretted.
I think the government did not want the world to know they had blocked the entire internet but most importantly they did not want us to know how they had done it i.e the legal mechanism they had used. While Mr Masiyiwa says his companies were complying with the law I am not sure when it comes to Zimbabwe, which law is he referring to here.
I am not a lawyer but the Interception of Communications Act Chapter 11:20 does not give anyone the power to block the internet as some people are claiming. I could not find Mr Masiyiwa’s original post unfortunately but some blog posts quote it at length and claim that section 6 (2a) of the Act says local management will be fined and/or imprisoned if they refuse to shutdown the internet. Section 6(2) of this act says nothing of the sort. It is section 9(2) that says that.
The Act gives government the power to intercept communications not block them
This Act only gives government the power to intercept communications and not block them. In fact the Act only authorises the government to intercept the communications of a specific person/entity/organisation/group of people. It does not allow the government to shutdown the internet not even close.
Some are going to jump and say to intercept might mean preventing access or blocking. They would be wrong because just like any other Act of Parliament this Act comes with a list of definitions to clarify what it means:
“intercept”, in relation to any communication which is sent—
(a) by means of a telecommunication system or radiocommunication system, means to listen to, record, or copy, whether in whole or in part;
(b) by post, means to read or copy the contents, whether in whole or part;
Listening, recording and copying does not equal blocking in the least bit. In fact as already stated this Act was never meant to allow the government block access to the internet as they have done. The only part of the Act that comes close to this is Section 6 subsection 2 a
(2) The Minister may, if he or she is of the opinion that the circumstances so require
(a) upon an application being made in terms of this Part, issue instead of a warrant any directive to a service provider not involving any interception or monitoring of communications;
This is as vague as vague a clause as these things go. In fact I seriously doubt this clause will survive scrutiny in the courts. It will most certainly be struck down for being vague. In any case using this clause to shutdown the internet is still against the spirit of this Act.
It was most certainly never meant to allow the government to shutdown people’s internet. Using it to do this would involve a very generous reading of the Act which should not be permitted given constitutional provisions that guarantee people’s right to communicate using the internet.