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Digital rights campaigners in Zimbabwe have expressed deep concern over plans to put surveillance systems in the upcoming high tech cybercity, a world away from the traffic-clogged streets and overcrowded slums of the country’s nearby capital.

Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa had launched the first 500-million US dollars stage of the Zim Cyber City project in partnership with Dubai-based company Mulk International last year. It would require a total investment of 60 billion US dollars, Mulk International said. Upmarket residential areas, shopping malls, modern offices and information technology hubs are going to be part of the cybercity.

Mulk International has a plan to install “surveillance technology that is directly connected to law enforcement authorities. The proposed facilities would ensure the safety of people living and working there. But digital rights campaigners don’t agree. Rights groups have a fear that any data gathered in Zim Cyber City would be misused by authorities in a country where security forces have been accused of violence and arbitrary arrests targeting protesters and opposition activists. Zimbabwean Minister of Information, Publicity and Broadcasting Services Monica Mutsvangwa denied that anybody’s privacy would be compromised. Rights groups said that they are worried about the use of facial recognition technology, which uses artificial intelligence to match live images of a person captured on cameras against a database of images.

Zimbabwe had enacted a cyber and data protection law in 2021 but critics said that the legislation has failed to strike the right balance between protecting citizens’ privacy and enabling mass surveillance.