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A threat to basic individual freedoms



THE new Communications (Subscriber Identity Module and Device Registration) Regulations 2021 which were gazetted recently could represent the biggest threat to our individual freedoms. The regulations will give the government of Lesotho sweeping powers to access and monitor all mobile communications. All mobile phone users will need to register their sim cards, residential addresses and biometrics which will all be kept in a central database. Critics say state security agencies will have access to this database and could use it to track down perceived government opponents and critics. What this means is that the government will ultimately have the power to intrude into the private lives of virtually every individual on Lesotho soil. There are fears that the government could use the new regulations as a coercive instrument for control of critics. That’s what makes these regulations scary. In present form the new regulations represent the biggest threat to our basic individual freedoms as stipulated under the Constitution. Basotho, we believe, have a right to privacy. They should enjoy the right to free expression and association. It is these freedoms that define who we are as Basotho which are now under threat. We believe the regulations in their current state will seek to significantly reverse and curtail the people’s individual freedoms. That is why we believe the government has a responsibility to clearly explain and justify why such an intrusive law would be necessary in a democratic society. So far, we have not had any cogent argument by the government why such a law would be necessary. Of course we do not deny that the government may, in certain cases, need to intercept information for national security purposes. But there must be a clear justification for such intervention. It would appear that is not what the new regulations are all about. The regulations appear to have been promulgated on the basis that Basotho are inherently wicked and are up to no good. That is wrong. The majority of Basotho are peace-loving citizens and harbor no intentions to topple the government through undemocratic means. There is therefore no reason why the government would be so keen to monitor their daily communications which are generally mundane. The new regulations will have a chilling effect on human rights defenders in Lesotho who may be unnerved by the mere fact that they are being watched. But the new regulations are not a surprise. There has been a clear shift in southern Africa in recent times with governments moving towards greater surveillance of their own citizens. Such laws are a boon for repressive regimes north of the Limpopo. Lesotho, which has done fairly well over the years in respecting citizens’ rights, must resist the temptation to copy and paste some of these repressive laws which dictatorial governments have used to keep their people under leash. Instead, Lesotho’s citizens are crying out for greater openness. They want to enjoy their basic freedoms without threats that they could fall foul of an insidious law crafted by their own government. The government of Lesotho will need to explain and justify to an apprehensive populace why we need the proposed legislation which critics say might be used to muzzle opponents. Without the consent of the governed, the government will have a tough time implementing the new measures. Simply put form the new legislation represents a threat to our basic freedoms.

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