Implications of Zambia's Cyber Security and Cyber Crimes Act 2021 on Digital Rights

In March 2021, Zambia adopted the Cyber Security and Cyber Crimes Act, 2021 following assent by President Edgar Lungu. The Act was passed amidst criticism that it was primarily aimed at policing the cyber space and gagging freedom of expression and speech of government critics and opponents ahead of the general election slated for August 12, 2021. Indeed, President Lungu’s statement that the law was intended “to protect citizens from abuse by people who feel they can do or say whatever they want using the veil of cyberspace” cannot be underestimated, as it sounds warning bells to online dissenters and critics. The law was first introduced in April 2018 as the Cybersecurity and Cybercrimes Bill and approved for review by the Cabinet in August 2018. Consequently, a number of concerns were raised by civil society organisations. Echoing local civil society groups’ concerns, the International Center for Not-for-Profit Law at the time noted that the bill addressed legitimate cybercrimes issues and offered some protections to freedom of expression and the right to privacy. However, it had numerous shortfalls, such as a chilling effect on freedom of expression, promoting censorship by the state and self-censorship, as well as unfettered intrusion on the right to privacy by the state through systematic monitoring, interception and surveillance. While proposals were made to revise the bill to address these concerns, the law was passed without addressing the concerns raised by civil society. As this analysis shows, the Act has negative ramifications for the enjoyment of digital rights in Zambia.