Just when you thought it could not get any worse, Zimbabwe always seems to go one step further. This week the armed forces came to Parliament to support the Government’s attempts to re-impose a single international gateway. Their argument? Surveillance would be impossible if there was more than one gateway and in the process they sought to bully the country’s regulator.

The  Zimbabwe Defence Forces has blasted the Postal and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (Potraz) for issuing licences to three mobile telephone service providers on the basis of a wrong statute of the law.

As a result, this has inhibited the State from monitoring international calls made through the three telecommunication players, thereby compromising State security, said a ZDF senior official.

  ZDF director in charge of communications (signal) Colonel Livingstone Chineka said this while giving oral evidence before the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Transport and Communication on the Interception of Communication Bill.

Col Chineka said Telecel, Econet and NetOne got their licences in accordance with Section 34 of the Postal and Telecommunication Act which deals with fixed telephony instead of section 31 that deals with mobile service providers.

"Section 31 provides for licensing of mobile service providers and requires them to link their base stations with TelOne for their gateways or backbone in making international calls and this could have enabled the State to police conversations in the interest of State security," said Col Chineka.

"Section 34 provides for licensing of fixed telephony, like Internet and satellite, and it provides for the setting-up of their own base stations. In my view, this was deliberate by Potraz to cause confusion."

Col Chineka said section 31 also provides that mobile service providers buy and instal their own equipment before they surrender ownership to the State.

"Section 31 provides that these operators build, operate and transfer (BOT system) to the State the ownership of the equipment but Potraz has never followed up this," he said.

"The mobile service providers have their own international gateway system; and, from a security point of view, this is dangerous to the State because we need to monitor traffic coming in and outside but at the moment we cannot."

He said the Ministry of Transport and Communication should have a fully-fledged communication department with a think-tank handling communication matters and monitoring of telecommunication traffic.

Asked what remedy he thought should be implemented, Col Chineka said mobile service providers should be given a grace period to realign their equipment and link up with TelOne to allow the State to monitor traffic movement and in accordance with the relevant section of the legal statute.

"The remedy we have is that because we have excessive capacity on the international gateway, that is at Mazowe, we should give the service providers time, say a month, to link through TelOne, providing a single gateway and by doing this, we will be complying with the Act," he said.

Col Chineka said security laws that allowed the State to monitor traffic coming in and out of the country were not unique to Zimbabwe as even countries like the United States had such laws which, he said, were meant to protect citizens from people with malicious agendas.

Asked what he thought about the Interception of Communications Bill, Col Chineka said the security forces had not had sight of the Bill and indicated that it was critical that they were consulted so that their input was taken into account before such legislation was passed.

Chairperson of the committee Leo Mugabe asked ZDF to make representations within a week on the Bill and on other legislation that relate to State security.

The Herald