Cyber law amendment welcome: Once bitten, twice shy
Published On February 28, 2023 » 611 Views» By Times Reporter » Features
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Whereas the call by many stakeholders and government’s resolve to review and amend the Cyber security and Cyber-crimes Act in Zambia is a welcome and positive move, I wish to add my views to this subject as an ardent reader of ethics of technology.
I would to commend the New Dawn government for granting the Zambian people yet another opportunity to give unto themselves a law that will safeguard their interests.
This is especially so in this modern era of the digital economy while fostering and enhancing an environment where the use of tools of technology will contribute to the socio-economic development of our country.
Against this background, there is, therefore, need for the country to put in place a robust and fool-proof process that will not rush and gloss over all issues- technical, social, political and economic- for political expediency and satisfaction of a narrow demographic segment of stakeholders as it was when it was passed in 2021.
Today, a country with scare resources, like ours, is forced to review a law that was passed barely two years ago.
While I acknowledge the dynamic characteristic of information and communication technologies, where innovation, invention and creativity are the order of the day, this also goes to justify the need for formulation of policies and laws that are not only objective and futuristic to stand a state of time but also in tune with the trends and dynamics of the industry they are intended to serve and protect.
To start with, we need to ask ourselves a question: how and why have we found ourselves in this situation?
When we give ourselves an honest and correct answer to this question, we will start from the right point to deal with not only the lacunae in the law from the legal point of view but also philosophical and technical issues.
The philosophical aspect will define and express our culture, experience and aspirations as we interact with the technology and while the technical issues will set a proper scope or boundaries to the technology that we desire to be encompassed by the law in both the longitudinal and cross-sectional time space.
This is so because in this era, cyber security and cybercrime are not only a question of attacks against the confidentiality, integrity and availability (CIA) of computer data and systems but against the core values and the human development potential of societies increasingly relying on information technology.
I will let you, the reader of this write-up, give your own answers to the above question and exercise your own epistemic agency.
Suffice to say that majority average objective intellectuals will arrive at the same place.
My two answers to the above question are ill-couched intention and non-stakeholder involvement due to a lack of a robust and fool-proof process.
Once bitten, twice shy.
As the saying goes, process protects content.
On the one side, I will not pretend to be qualified to explain, not even by intuition, the intention of the policy makers then, in passing the current Act.
However, I am confident though that even a most experienced panel of judges will find means like no other to interpret the law using mischief rule how hate speech could only exist in the cyber space.
On the other side, there is need for wider consultation and guard against the process from being dominated by political agents and civil society organisations only, leaving out technical experts as was the case previously.
Rather, the process must see to it that all relevant stakeholders are brought on board.
The National ICT Policy of 2006 has a four-tier stakeholder framework.
These are policy, legal and regulatory, implementer, and citizens.
These are expanded as follows:
Businesses (public and privately owned);
International and local stakeholders;
Big tech and start-ups;
Traditional representatives; and
Faith-based and civil society organizations, academia, women, youths and children.
Therefore, my recommendations are as follows:
A genuinely robust and fool-proof process will start by reviewing the National ICT Policy of 2006.
For the past 17 years, this policy has served as the bedrock for much of the milestones recorded in the ICT industry in Zambia so far.
It was envisioned as a guiding document in developing sector-specific ICT policies and plans that would allow the application of ICTs in our country.
Apart from policing the use of social media which happen to be over-the-top services, the law must comprehensively cater for the whole infrastructure and trends of technologies that make up the cyber space.
Among them are Metaverse, augmented reality (MR)/virtual reality (VR), mixed reality, the Internet of Things (IoT), Big data, machine learning (ML) and Artificial Intelligence (AI) in general.
There is need to benchmark with trends in the region, continent and international jurisdictions.
The government must allow cyber security experts, whom I know we have in abundance in our country, take a leading role shoulder-to-shoulder with ICT policy and legal experts.
The law should not, however, stifle innovation, constrict economic activities and choke public discourse.
It should rather be sensitive to ethical issues such as privacy and foster citizens’ confidence to embrace technology that is in tune with local culture and experience so that they can competitively engage in the digital economy for wealth creation and human flourishing.
The author is an IT ethicist, policy expert and PhD student at University of Pretoria’s Department of Philosophy, in South Africa.
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