19 February 2013

Namibia: ICT Ministry Drafting Cyber Law

Windhoek — Two years ago the amount of new clothes in the world bought online stood at 37 percent and by last year this figure shot up to 50 percent.

This is but one example of the mushrooming of business conducted over the Internet, which in Namibia and Africa as a whole mostly includes mobile devices.

The escalating number of businesses on the World Wide Web has prompted the Ministry of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) to draft the Use of Electronic Transactions and Communications Bill.

Speaking at an MTC function in Windhoek yesterday, ICT Minister, Joel Kaapanda, noted that the new legislation would assist Namibia to move forward according to a new paradigm of conducting business and delivery of government services via the Internet.

"The Ministry of Information and Communication Technology is vigorously executing government policy to place Namibia on the right path towards the promotion, use and growth of ICTs for development," explained Kaapanda.

The Managing Director of MTC, Miguel Geraldes, confirmed that ICT companies are experiencing a 'data tsunami', as both customers and businesses convert to sending more data compared to making voice calls.

"Consumers are expected to use 20 times more mobile data from 2011 to 2016, while enterprises are expected to use 12 times more mobile data during the same period," Geraldes said yesterday during a breakfast gathering at a Windhoek hotel.

Kaapanda added that the new legislation would include recognizing electronic contracts and electronic signatures as binding agreements. The Bill will also make provision to include electronic data as being eligible in court as material evidence.

"The realisation strikes me every day that more than half the Namibian population uses sophisticated mobile technology to manage their communications, and to increasingly conduct money transactions. The nature of such transactions is becoming increasingly intangible, with a lessening of paperwork and manual documentation being increasingly evident. It is this reality which this law will want to promote and in this manner serve to create certainty and trust, and at the same time, to regulate its usage for the retrieval and storage of information," Kapaanda informed an ICT symposium recently.

The gathering included a group of experts from South Africa who shared their experiences and advice on how similar legislation has been designed and applied in other parts of the world. However, according to Kapaanda gaps in the law are already appearing as people use modern communications as a matter of course in the conduct of their daily affairs.

"Of course, the uses of ICTs has brought about not only advances in technology and business, but problems and the extent thereof has not been foreseen. Computers have become another tool used to commit crime. This has led policymakers the world over to look into mechanisms to minimise misuse to avoid the adverse impact on society. In fact, the criminalisation of certain acts has created a new category of law, namely, cyber crime," said Kaapanda.

Namibia has had its fair share of cyber crime such as incidences of identity theft and the circulation of pornographic material via cell-phones by teenagers during school hours. "I would not be surprised if there are other forms of misuse (with criminal intent), such as unauthorised access of IT systems, misuse of personal data, the purveying of child pornography and the like, which might often just be brushed aside when encountered.

"But this could be to the detriment of the organisation itself through the fraudulent loss of money, often irrecoverable, and other acts which seriously infringe the privacy of a person. These are serious acts and could even, if unattended, threaten national interests," he said.

Many countries have created cyber crime provisions in their laws and even in Namibia several laws, which have already been enacted, actually contain cyber crime provisions. Once the draft Bill is promulgated it is expected to benefit Namibia in a variety of ways on the socio-economic front, including new developments in legal education, such as teaching electronically and the promotion of other areas of education.

The Bill could further lead to improvements in litigation support which will increase efficiency in court systems and the handling of evidence required for the settlement of disputes. "It goes without saying that the so-called e-laws must allow for the training of more knowledgeable employees to allow for a proper understanding of their impact and application," the minister said.

Kapaanda recently quoted Stuart Biegel, an American writer on cyberspace technology, who stated in his book "Beyond our Control" that "the existence of cyberspace has become an indispensable reality, and the norms that have emerged cannot be ignored by anyone with a stake in the online world."

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