South African nations to adopt cyber laws

Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) countries are on track to harmonize their Internet laws in order to effectively deal with computer-related crimes, and hope to finalize legislation next year, according to government officials.

The Zambian minister of transport and communications, Abel Chambeshi, told the IDG News Service that all the SADC countries have agreed to alter parts of their cyber crime laws and come up with common rules by the end of next year.

The harmonized hi-tech laws, Chambeshi said, will have a clause that allows for the extradition of cyber criminals within the SADC region.

SADC is an economic bloc headquartered in Gaborone, Botswana, and consists of 14 African countries that include Zambia, Botswana, Malawi, Swaziland and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The move to harmonize cyberlaws was initiated at a SADC meeting in Swaziland last month. The meeting was organized and sponsored by the Commonwealth Network of Information Technology for Development (COMNET-IT), an organization that is supported by the government of Malta and the 53-member nation Commonwealth Secretariat.

Chambeshi said the harmonization of cyber laws in the SADC countries will ensure cross-border enforcement of cyber crimes such as computer fraud, hacking and online scams.

“This will actually be an achievement for SADC countries in as far as dealing with cyber crimes are concerned. It has never happened before in the history of SADC,” Chambeshi said.

At the moment only South Africa, Zambia and Mauritius have enacted laws to deal with Internet communications and commerce. Namibia will however, have hi-tech laws ready by the second half of this year. In the wake of the SADC meeting last month, other countries say they will have cyber laws ready by next year.

The SADC agreement makes it easier for countries to put in place cyber laws, Chambeshi said. Those countries that do not yet have their laws in place can adopt the agreed-upon clauses that deal with cyber crimes, he noted.

Botswana director of information technology Alicia Ramaribana recently told the Botswana Press Agency (BOPA) that the harmonized SADC hi-tech laws will help deal with the increasing use of technology in the country and make it more efficient to interact with other developing countries.

Ramaribana said that the move by SADC countries to harmonize Internet laws was an indirect call for Botswana to develop its own legislation to deal with the increasing use of technology in the country. At the moment, Botswana does not have any laws in place that specifically tackle cyber crimes.

One of the things that needs to be done, according to Chambeshi, is to agree on minimum jail terms.

In Zambia for example, the law states that a hacker should face a jail term of up to 25 years. It is not clear yet whether the harmonized laws will adopt the 25-year jail term, which sparked controversy among IT professionals in Zambia who argued that it was too harsh.