Zimbabwe passes warrantless eavesdropping law, cites U.S.

New eavesdropping powers seized by Robert Mugabe are justified by citing the new powers vested by the Democratic Congress in President Bush.

Published August 10, 2007 10:43PM (EDT)

Several weeks ago, I wrote about State Department reports condemning Russia for its lawless detentions, its use of "coerced interrogation techniques," and violations by Putin's government of Russia's eavesdropping laws. This morning, the New York Times reported on the torture of detainees in the custody of the uncivilized, brutal, dictatorial Libyan government.

And now today, from Voice of America, is this article reporting on a controversial new eavesdropping measured signed into law by the tyrannical President of that country, Robert Mugabe:

Zimbabwe President Mugabe Signs State Eavesdropping Law

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe on Friday signed into law the controversial Interception of Communications Bill, which gives his government the authority to eavesdrop on phone and Internet communications and read physical mail.

The legislation has drawn outspoken opposition from the political opposition and civil society organizations as trampling on the civil rights of Zimbabweans.

Spokesman Nelson Chamisa of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change faction of Morgan Tsvangirai called it an addition to "the dictator's tool kit" . . .

Secretary General Welshman Ncube of the MDC faction led by Arthur Mutambara called it a "final straw to the curtailment to the liberties of Zimbabweans."

Human rights lawyer Otto Saki told VOA that the law interferes and undermines the enjoyment of rights enshrined in the constitution and is a sign Mr. Mugabe wants to consolidate his power by "any means necessary or unnecessary."

But Communications Minister Christopher Mushowe said Zimbabwe is not unique in the world in passing such legislation, citing electronic eavesdropping programs in the United States, the United Kingdom and South Africa, among other countries.

Under the law an interception of communication monitoring center will be set up. But Internet and other communications service providers will be required to ensure that their systems are technically capable of supporting lawful interception at all times.

Those authorized to make applications for the interception of communications include the chief of defense intelligence, the director general of the president's department of national security, the commissioner of the Zimbabwe Republic Police and the commissioner general of the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority.

It at least seems as though Zimbabweans enjoy a robust, brave and spirited opposition party which aggressively opposes such measures. I wonder what that's like.

One of the points Chris Dodd made in the interview I did with him was this:

And this [holding the Constitution] is the spark, the illumination, it is, if I may so say, the envy of many around the world. We have been a guiding set of principles. What is going on with the rule of law isn't just happening here. . . Other countries are saying, "We can do this, too."

So there has been an erosion in the world with the rule of the law. Having led the world in the rule of law in the post-World War II period, and having nations reluctantly moving in the direction we were moving in, and they now see the U.S. has retreated, and they are making a hasty retreat themselves.

I doubt that Robert Mugabe needed any inspiration from George Bush to seize these new surveillance powers, but the fact that such powers exist here does provide a potent refutation for those who want to suggest that Mugabe is doing anything extraordinarily tyrannical.

Now that the law that Mugabe wanted has been passed, will he follow further in the White House's footsteps by issuing bold-faced demands that still more powers will be bestowed? As the White House decree put it on the day the President signed his new eavesdropping powers into law:

Our Work Is Not Done -- This Act Is A Temporary, Narrowly Focused Statute To Deal With The Most Immediate Needs Of The Intelligence Community To Protect The Country.

When Congress returns in September, the Intelligence Committees and leaders in both parties will need to complete work on the comprehensive reforms requested by Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell, including the important issues of providing meaningful liability protection to those who are alleged to have assisted our Nation following the attacks of September 11, 2001.

Bush has made clear that this new law was but a first step, and expects that still more powers will be given to him when Congress returns -- including providing immunity to all lawbreakers for past criminality. A rational person would have far more faith in the Zimbabwean opposition to stop Mugabe's future demands than in the American opposition's willingness to resist Bush's recent decree ("Our Work Is Not Done -- Congress "will need to complete work on the comprehensive reforms requested by Director of National Intelligence").

By Glenn Greenwald

Follow Glenn Greenwald on Twitter: @ggreenwald.

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