‘Big Brother is watching you’ Bill raises dust



MASERU – The Minister of Information, Communications, Science, Technology and Innovation, Nthati Moorosi, yesterday shot down suggestions that she had tabled the dreaded cyber Bill as it was without factoring in concerns raised by the other media stakeholders.

Despite tabling of the Computer Crimes and Cyber Security Bill, 2024 by Minister Moorosi in the National Assembly on May 22, 2024, MISA Lesotho Chapter is dissatisfied, insisting some of the clauses should be revised, including clause 21 on “illegal access”, to mention a few. MISA Lesotho Chapter National Director, seasoned journalist Lekhetho Ntsukunyane, said in an interview yesterday that they are not satisfied with the Computer Crimes and Cyber Security Bill, 2024 draft.

He mentioned their concern does not mean that there are clauses missing in the bill but that they believe it would be wiser if the clauses could be revised including the clause that refers to “illegal access” and others that talk about access to information.  “The Minister called meetings with us many times, about three times to be exact, but she does not seem to have taken into consideration any of the recommendations we made either verbally or written,” he said.

MISA Lesotho made recommendations on the Computer Crimes and Cyber Security Bill, 2023 before it is passed into law as a written submission to the Ministry of Information, Communications, Science, Technology and Innovation. The recommendations were written as follows: That all terminologies that could attract double meanings in interpretation should be clearly and sufficiently defined in the terminologies section;

That the Bill must be crafted in simple, ordinary and easy-to-understand language if it is going to apply to ordinary citizens, not computer engineers, ICT experts and other people of specialised disciplines related to computers and the digital space;

Also that, if the Bill is not a local innovation, but has come as a result of compliance with regional and international protocols in which Lesotho is a signatory, it must be domesticated in a manner that addresses local content and the domestic climate e.g. Lesotho is not that much susceptible to social ills such as racial discrimination and xenophobia due to its monoculture and homogeneity as a society.

Public Eye contacted Minister Moorosi by this reporter earlier on, she asked the reporter to go back to MISA and find out what exactly their concerns are. When this reporter contacted her again with MISA’s response, the Minister said could not respond as she has already boarded a plane to Dubai. She referred this reporter to the Ministry’s law department and Public Eye unsuccessfully tried to do so by the time of going to print.

Moorosi tabled the reasons and objects of the Computer Crime and Cyber Security Bill, 2024 in Parliament towards the end of last month. Parliament’s Prime Minister’s Ministries Portfolio Cluster Committee deliberated on the detailed and comprehensive Bill on May 22, in a series of closed door meetings. This marks the resumption of what sceptics characterise as the authorities’ bid to spy on individuals’ communications while also deterring genuine investigations by journalists because of the heavy fines and sentences many have described as draconian.

Watchers this week expressed fears the government could be tempted to unilaterally push the fearsome law through parliament which, in its present form, could spell a heavy blow to aspirations towards a free press in Lesotho. Ntsukunyane expressed disappointment over the issue. “The Minister has sneaked the Bill into Parliament without considering our input. We will fight the oppressive law,” he said earlier this week.

Urging MPs to reject the Bill and jettison it from the table, Ntsukunyane said it was worrisome the current communications minister was repeating the same mistake made by those before him on the issue. The previous administration’s communications portfolio was headed by then Minister Samuel Rapapa who ignored pleas to vastly engage all the interest groups including journalists and media houses first.

Parliament itself at the time returned the Bill to Rapapa urging him to consult widely. This saw a meeting being convened in June last year in Maseru where media representatives and some prominent civic groups being represented. They unanimously expressed concerns about many aspects of the bill which they deemed too broad and therefore potentially problematic in future.

Subsequently, Minister Moorosi asked for written submissions to support claims that the Bill was over-arching and parties dully submitted these to her office. This week media stakeholders complained that their concerns were not factored into the Bill, which make it practically impossible for journalists to do their work, particularly investigations, without the looming threat of draconian fines running into millions of Maloti or long jail sentences.

Fines such as M1 000 000 or M5 000 000, are clearly out of reach for not just the poorly paid journalists in the country but even for the modest means of most media houses, which are mostly funded by private individuals struggling to stay afloat. When she assumed the communications cabinet post Moorosi immediately withdrew the Bill from Parliament, thereby appeasing a restive media sector. The run-ins with media watchdogs like Misa even predate the era of Rapapa or Moorosi.

In 2021 the NGO issued a statement which read, in part, “MISA Lesotho is extremely worried that the Computer Crime and Cyber Security Bill of 2021 that was presented to Parliament by the Minister of Communications, Science and Technology Keketso Sello, on March 23, 2021 was drafted by the Ministry of Communications, Science and Technology without consulting all the parties that will be affected by the said Bill once it becomes law.”

Misa further warned: “MISA Lesotho is concerned that when the Computer Crime and Cyber Security Law is adopted in a hurried manner, without meaningful dialogue with all potentially affected parties, civil society, and the expert community, it is likely to be ineffective, incomplete, contradictory and in breach of fundamental human rights and freedoms.”

It would seem the country continues to move in circles as the issue remains where it has been since 2021 according to media stakeholders. The world over governments have, since the early 2000s when use of internet exploded, been frantically looking for legislation to rein in information since new technology saw authorities losing grip on information control. Countries like India passed similar legislation more than 20 years ago.

In India the Information Technology (IT) Act, 2000, is the primary legislation dealing with cybersecurity, data protection and cybercrime which cites activities such as hacking, denial-of-service attacks, phishing, malware attacks, identity fraud and electronic theft as punishable offences.

Closer home in South Africa, the Cybercrimes Act 19 of 2020 (“Cybercrimes Act”) was signed into law in June 2021 and came into force in December 2021, bringing the country’s cybersecurity legislation in line with global standards. Lesotho is lagging behind in that respect.

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