Following two years of consideration, Zimbabwe's cabinet has approved the Cybercrime and Cyber Security Bill.
The Bill is a combination of other pieces of legislation including the Electronic Transactions and Electronic Commerce Bill, Data Protection Bill as well as the Computer Crime and Cybercrime Bill.
The Cybercrime and Cyber Security Bill was reportedly fast-tracked by Zimbabwe's Information Minister Monica Mutsvangwa last week following widespread protest action over price hikes on fuel and other commodities, which made international headlines.
In response the government shut down the internet and social media access citing the Interception of Communications Act.
According to the newly introduced laws, Zimbabweans who abuse social media will face maximum ten years in jail, and foreign-based Zimbabweans "who cause harm back home" using social media or any other computer-based system will be extradited and prosecuted.
The Bill also seeks to guide the introduction of a Zimbabwe Cyber Policy that will ensure that internet and related technologies are used for the good of society, not to violate national security, the Minister said.
"In the recent challenges facing the country, opposition forces and other civic organisations whose main objective is to topple a legitimately elected government, social media has been used to coordinate the so-called shut down by deploying and coordinating thugs and criminals to attack members of the public and destroy infrastructure as a way of instilling fear in the citizenry and depict the country as failing," Mutsvangwa added.
The new legislation has triggered criticism from civil society organisations, business groups and political opposition parties.
"The bill lays the foundation for a police state," said Charlton Hwende, Chairperson of the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Information Communication Technology, Postal and Courier Services and MDC-Alliance legislator for Kuwadzana East.
Energy Bango, a journalism lecturer at the Harare polytechnic, said the bill would enable the powerful committee to 'pursue a preventive approach' and thereby survey the digital spectrum for political opposition and not only malware, cyber risks.
Thabani Moyo, national director of Media institute of Southern Africa, said, "If the bill takes effect, it will give the state authorities enormous power to obtain information freely on any individual, including accessing, making copies and collecting individual information or even entering the house of a person without a court warrant."