data must fall in Zimbabwedata must fall in Zimbabwe
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Violation of digital privacy by politicians through unsolicitated political messaging

The digital freedoms of registered voters in Zimbabwe have been compromised by possible breaches and leakages of personal data.

Central to the digital rights violation is the fact that unsolicited bulk text messaging is a possible breach of the Cyber Security and Data Protection Act.

Simply put, The Act prohibts access to a subject’s personal data by a third party without written consent of the data subject.

According to Biometric Update, in May 2023, the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) petitioned POTRAZ to determine whether those sending unsolicited SMSs to voters had access to their personal data using lawful means.

A tweet showing the unsolicited bulk messages.

However, the unsolicited messages continue to be sent despite POTRAZ’s promise to launch an inquiry into the leakage of personal data of voters following another incident in April.

According to Tabani Moyo, national director for MISA Zimbabwe, the unsolicited messages sent to voters contain their names and the specific polling stations where they will be expected to vote during the upcoming general elections slated for August 23, 2023.

The ZNCJ Digital Rights community is concerned about data processors, including the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) and telecommunications companies for possibly leaking and/or enabling personal data breaches for political communication.

Zimbabwe’s ruling party evidently has access to the popullation’s personal data. It is clear infringement on Digital rights to privacy for political parties to access personal data of targeted persons in the voters roll.

Targeted bulk text messaging from political parties has emerged as a serious digital concern in Zimbabwe during this election period for the purposes of political communication.

Government and the political party involved have access to personally identifying information of citizens. Due to the highly targeted nature of the messages, it is our hope that journalists are not exposed to any form of harm and that such messages do not promote self-censorship.

Nompilo Simanje, Africa lead for advocacy and partnerships at the International Press Institute,

This week, Zimbabweans on social media have again reported receiving unsolicited political text messages in their constituencies from the ruling party’s sole presidential candidate, Emerson Mnangangwa.

The bulk messaging is flouting the Cyber Security and Data Protection Act, which clearly prohibits the processing of third-party data. In this case, your phone number has been targeted for unsolicited political messaging, and the ZNCJ Digital Rights community is flagging data breaches and unauthorized processing of third-party data.

When people receive unsolicited political messages, it is a violation of their privacy. This is because their personal information, such as their phone number, has been used without their consent.

Unsolicited political messaging is flouting Data Protection Law. The law is designed to protect people’s personal information from being used without their consent.

Unsolicited political messages can also be seen as a violation of freedom of expression. This is because they can be used to drown out other voices or silence dissent.

As a result, there is a growing concern that unsolicited bulk SMS for political messaging is a growing threat to digital rights. This is because it can be used to manipulate public opinion, spread misinformation, and silence dissent.

How digital rights are violated through bulk SMS for political messaging

Unsolicited bulk SMS for political messaging can violate digital rights in a number of ways.

 These include:

Privacy

People have a right to privacy, and this includes the right to control their personal information. Unsolicited bulk SMS messages often contain personal information, such as phone numbers, which can be used to track people or target them with marketing messages.

Data protection

People have a right to data protection, which means that their personal information should be collected and used in a fair and lawful way. Unsolicited bulk SMS messages often violate data protection laws by collecting personal information without consent or using it for purposes other than those for which it was collected.

Freedom of expression

People have a right to freedom of expression, but this right is not absolute. Unsolicited bulk SMS messages can violate freedom of expression if they are used to spread hate speech or incite violence.

Unfair competition

Unsolicited bulk SMS messages can also violate unfair competition laws. These laws are designed to protect businesses from unfair practices, such as using spam to divert customers away from their competitors.

 Here are some things that you can do to protect your digital rights from unsolicited bulk SMS for political messaging:

• Do not give out your phone number unless you are sure that you want to receive messages from that person or organization.

• Opt out of receiving unsolicited bulk SMS messages. Most mobile phone providers have a way to do this.

• Report unsolicited bulk SMS messages to your mobile phone provider or to the authorities.

Busting unsolicited text messages

Public awareness and Education campaigns

The Data authority , POTRAZ must commit to educate Zimbabweans about their digital rights and the Data Protection Act. People need to be aware of their digital rights and how they can be violated by unsolicited bulk SMS for political messaging.

Strengthening state institutions

Government must strengthen institutions to resist political influence and capture. Bodies such as ZEC and POTRAZ must dispatch their mandate without political interference.

Holding Telecom companies accountable

Holding companies accountable for their actions Telecommunication companies that send unsolicited bulk SMS for political messaging need to be held accountable for their actions.

This could include fines or other penalties. By taking these steps, we can help to protect digital rights and ensure that unsolicited bulk SMS for political messaging is not used to violate these rights.

    

If you support independent community focused journalism in Zimbabwe, you are welcome to donate towards ZNCJ.ORG fund to provide reporting grants.

Click here to make a PayPal donation or contact us at zncj@yahoo.com

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By Richard Matthew Kawazi

Richard Kawazi is a media policy and tech enthusiast, also a multi award winning journalist with a keen interest in Experimental Media Development.

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