It may soon become a crime to be thorough in Tanzania

Tanzania’s parliament is deliberating on a bill that will criminalize the collection, analysis, and dissemination of any data without first obtaining authorization from the country’s chief statistician. The government is proposing a fine of at least 10 million shillings ($4,400), a jail term of three years, or both, for non-adherence.

The Written Laws (Miscellaneous Amendments (NO.3) Act 2018 which contains 9 substantive amendments to the Statistics Act 2015 removed the punishments for publishing statistics that are either false or slightly untrue and introduced in Article 24A(2), a new law prohibiting people from disseminating or otherwise communicating to the public any statistical information that is intended to invalidate, distort, or discredit official statistics.

According to the government, the amendments to its Statistics Act are to promote peace and security and to stop the publication of fake information. Meanwhile, the Act explicitly prohibits individuals and institutions who conduct opposing surveys from that of the country’s National Bureau of Statistics (NBS).

In March this year, the government said it would charge over $900 to license bloggers under the Electronic and Postal Communications (Online Content) Regulations 2017. Prior to that, various media organizations have in the past been shut down and newspapers suspended for allegedly spreading false information.

Under the proposed amendment, any commentary or article or research disproving or questioning any official data released by the government would be deemed an illegal act, irrespective of the facts contained in such document. Meaning that, if an official statistics is incorrect or has distorted fact and a person brings that to notice, they may be punished for doing so.

Criticising the move, people say the government only wants exclusive data control and that the amended Statistics Act will hinder data collection, the ability to fact-check and hold official sources accountable, as well as cripple independent investigations.

The opposition also thinks the law could target institutions and limit scholars from releasing data that does not favour the government.