By Moses Michael-Phiri
Civil society organizations in Malawi have said that a law criminalizing the act of knowingly receiving and sharing unauthorized data was meant to silence people on the social media ahead of elections in 2019.
The new law, the first of its kind in the southeastern African nation, stipulates that a person found sharing or receiving such information is committing a crime liable to a $2,500 fine and imprisonment of up to five years.
Similarly, it is also a crime for any person to willfully and repeatedly use electronic communication to attempt to disturb the peace or right of privacy of any person. According to a notice in the official government gazette published Tuesday, the new law has been in effect from June 1.
In an interview via telephone on Tuesday, Malawi Minister of Information and Communications Technology Nicholas Dausi confirmed to Anadolu Agency that the law, which was enacted in November last year, was now fully operational.
“The Electronic Transactions and Cyber Security Act is now in force and will control any extremism and radicalization of our youths by some unwarranted groups. I will also stop abuse of the Internet,” Dausi said.
Billy Mayaya, a human rights activist, told Anadolu Agency that there was need for massive civic education before putting such restrictions on the usage of the Internet.
“Government should educate the masses on how to use the Internet for productive purposes and responsibly rather than rushing to restrict it,” he said.
But Dausi insists the new law would bring public order as, among others, it will put in place mechanisms that safeguard information and communications technology (ICT) users from fraud, breach of privacy, misuse of information and immoral behavior.
The law imposes a fine of $10,000 and 15 years imprisonment to any person who hacks into any computer system or introduces or spreads a virus into a computer system or network.
Presidential, parliamentary and local government elections in Malawi will take place in 2019.