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Editors reject 'spy clause' in Comms Bill

November 27, 2008
The Namibian

THE Namibia Editors' Forum has called on the Ministry of Information and Communication Technology to remove the clause in the Communications Bill giving the Namibia Central Intelligence Service (NCIS) wide-ranging powers to spy on citizens without court approval.

"This was roundly condemned. The editors believe interception of communications cuts to the heart of freedom of expression, a right cast in stone in the Namibian Constitution," Chairperson of the forum Eberhard Hofmann said yesterday.

At its annual general meeting on Monday, the Forum discussed, among others, the proposed bill as well as the self-regulatory grievance procedure.

The grievance procedure includes a media complaints committee and an appeals committee.

Sharing some of the decisions with the media, Hoffman said phone tapping and e-mail snooping will have a chilling effect on the dissemination of information and will nullify Namibia's image as a country with high levels of media freedom.

The "interception of communications" clause in gives the Government free rein to monitor telephone calls and electronic mail between citizens in the name of crime prevention and national security.

The Director of the Legal Assistance Centre, Norman Tjombe, said such provisions will stifle democracy as people will be afraid to speak up.

"It will have very far-reaching consequences for not only the media but citizens in general," he said.

Tjombe made a presentation to the editors on Monday.

The bill's provisions are similar to those in Zimbabwe's Interception of Communications Bill, which that country uses to threaten journalists and their sources, who are already subject to a battery of repressive laws.

It is seen as constituting a gross infringement on the fundamental and constitutional rights of Namibians to privacy, freedom of expression and freedom of association since it provides for blanket interception of communication.

Last week the Media Institute of Southern Africa said the interception of communications "should be an exception rather than the rule".

"An exception can be made for activities like money laundering, terrorism, child pornography or human trafficking.

The bill should therefore narrowly define which type of communication can be intercepted and under what circumstances.

Interception of communication across the board is not acceptable in a democracy," it said.

The bill gives sweeping powers to individuals of any level at an interception centre to monitor and intercept communication.

Misa described that as "frightening and clearly open to abuse".

"Lawyer-client confidentiality, banker-customer confidentiality, husband-wife confidentiality, doctor-patient confidentiality and all other forms of confidentiality will be breached under the proposed law," it said.

Tjombe said an earlier draft did not include the section on spying.

"Of particular concern is that it was sneaked in after public participation instead of the NCIS coming to debate it openly with us.

That's not what we call a democracy," he said.

The editors said they will also approach the Ministry privately.

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