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Some Internet Service Providers Opt Out of Zimbabwe Government Effort to Spy on Citizens - 2004-06-02

Some Internet Service Providers in Zimbabwe are refusing to cooperate with a government effort to obtain information about people who send, what are deemed, politically sensitive messages. Some Zimbabwean Internet Service Providers are refusing to sign a new contract, sent to them by the government, that contains the new requirement.

An executive at one provider says the contract is illegal because the Zimbabwe Supreme Court ruled last year that reading people's e-mails is illegal. The executive, who asked not to be identified, said the government has failed to monitor the e-mails itself and is now asking the Internet Service Providers to, "do their dirty work for them."

The new contract presented by the government requires the providers to ensure they do not carry any messages that are objectionable or obscene or that have any content that breaks Zimbabwean or international laws. It also requires the companies to report any such messages to the government for investigation.

Another Internet company official said his company is also not signing the contract because complying with it would be an infringement on people's right to privacy. He says his customers could sue the company and put it out of business.

If the companies do not sign the contract, the government could block their access to the Internet.

Analysts see the government move to control Internet messages as an effort to further stem the flow of information before elections next year. The government already has a monopoly on broadcasting, and it closed the country's biggest independent daily newspaper last year.

Zimbabwean police last year arrested 14 people for circulating, what they called, a subversive e-mail message. It is said to have called for violent demonstrations and strikes to force President Robert Mugabe from office.