An Internet crime bill in Zambia, which includes provisions that could see convicted hackers facing sentences of up to 25 years in jail, has caused some controversy in the country's IT community but is expected to become law soon.

The bill received parliamentary approval and is expected to be signed into law by President Levy Mwanawasa within a month or two. The bill would become the first Zambian law dealing with cybercrime. Minister of Transport and Communications Bates Namuyamba introduced the bill in Parliament last month, following the government's completion of its ICT (Information and Communications Technology) policy.

Although the cybercrime bill met no resistance from lawmakers, the Computer Society of Zambia said its punitive measures were too harsh and claimed they were not consulted when the bill was being drafted. The Computer Society of Zambia is an NGO (nongovernmental organization) chartered with the task of carrying out educational campaigns on computer related issues. The society has stated that lawmakers were not well-informed enough to make a well-founded judgment on the Internet crime bill.

One out of 1,000 Zambians owns a computer and two of every 1,000 know how to use a computer, according to statistics from the e-Brain Forum, an NGO. The country up to now has not been noted as having an especially high cybercrime rate. The most prominent high-tech case up to now involved the hacking of a government Web site, which resulted in the president's portrait being replaced by a cartoon. The hacker was arrested but later released because there was no law to support his prosecution.

"This is a warning to people that government will not let computer abusers get away with it," Namuyamba said of the cybercrime bill.