Civil Society Working Group calls for enhanced cyber security during the COVID-19 response

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Lusaka, 14 May 2020: The Working Group on Cyber Laws and Digital Security in Zambia, a consortium of Civil Society actors advocating for human rights-based internet legislation in Zambia, calls on telecommunications operators and other digital players to enhance cyber security for internet users in the wake of increased online transactions due to the outbreak of COVID-19.

Companies, individuals, businesses, governments and other stakeholders are still trying to find their way around the Covid-19 pandemic. In the hope of protecting the employees’ health, several entities have resorted to unfamiliar systems of work, allowing their employees to work remotely, and adjusting some of their approaches. More than ever before, workers are spending extended time remotely logging into secure computer network systems to continue their work activities from home.

The Working Group notes that during these times of distress for individuals and entities, the breach of personal and institutional data is also at its peak. This makes cyber security a top priority for everyone using online tools to seek, receive, share, store, manage or process data. This is more so of a priority for cyber security agencies that are working to thwart the inevitable upswing in cybercriminal activities.

More people working from home means more people are creating, opening and sharing files online, conducting online transactions such as banking, purchases and payments.  Online meetings and instant messaging have replaced many aspects of the daily routines of entities. This increase in remote access traffic can create additional vulnerabilities in otherwise secure internal computer systems. For example, in the last few weeks we have seen an increase in the number of “Zoom Bombing” cases, where unscrupulous characters find their way into virtual meeting spaces, and “bomb” with unwanted content.

It is our view as a Working Group that during this time, users of internet-based platforms must be protected from cyber security threats and cybercrimes. This calls for relevant government cyber security agencies to focus more on minimizing the chances of cyber breaches and protecting citizens against cybercrime. Their work must be driven by the need to protect citizens’ rights to privacy and freedom of expression, not an overly security-based focus of managing cyber activities considered crimes against the state.

The increased use of the internet during this COVID-19 threatened period is a manifestation of the importance of the internet as one of the modern prime movers of economic development and democratic societies. It has also brought to the fore the human rights principles associated with internet use as enshrined in local and international human rights instruments such as the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which Zambia ratified in 1984.  These instruments guarantee citizens the right to freedom of expression which includes freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, and protection from arbitrary or unlawful interference with their privacy, family, home or correspondence, as well as  unlawful attacks on their reputation for integrity.

In the course of executing their duties to curb internet breaches and cybercrime, cyber security agencies have a responsibility to uphold the human rights of citizens to use the internet to conduct their businesses without undue interference to their rights to privacy  and freedom of expression.

Agreeably there are incidences of internet abuse, but these cannot warrant arbitrary violation of people’s cyber rights.

On the other hand, the Working Group recognizes the need for organisations and other stakeholders to popularize digital safety and security among internet users in order to curb the escalated cybercrimes during and beyond the COVID-19 pandemic period. Each organisation has a duty to teach its employees and other stakeholders the basic security concepts to protect confidential personal, customer/client and institutional data, as well as avoid abuse of the internet while they work remotely.

We also urge all internet users to exercise maximum caution in the use of internet and virtual platforms as they do their work, socialize or to procure services and goods as they continue working remotely.

 

Notes for the Editor

 The Working Group on Cyber Laws and Digital Security in Zambia is a consortium of Civil Society actors advocating for human rights-based internet legislation in Zambia. The Working Group members are Panos Institute Southern Africa, Bloggers of Zambia, Zambia Council for Social Development, and the Media Institute Southern Africa (MISA). With support from Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH, the Working Group is currently implementing the “Broadening Civic Space to Enhance Human Rights in Zambia” project.

 

Issued by:

 Vusumuzi Sifile

Executive Director, Panos Institute Southern Africa (PSAf)

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