In the face of an upsurge in African cybercrime targeting the financial sector and uprisings meant to force regime change in many African countries, the Angolan government has approved a computer crime law that is expected to have a ripple effect in the region.

The law on information and communication technology crimes gives security forces powers to search and confiscate data without a court order and creates penalties of up 12 years imprisonment for any crime committed using a computer.

The Angolan law is however also aimed at preventing unrest in Angola that is coordinated by social networks.

The law has been approved as part of a package of laws regulating information technology and data protection in Angola. In March this year, the Angolan government successfully managed to neutralize an antigovernment demonstration that had been called via the Internet, whose aim of to end the 32-year regime of the country's president, Edwardo dos Santos.

Waves of antigovernment demonstrations are currently sweeping through Africa following the successful ousting of Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak and Tunisia's Ben Ali early this year. The demonstrations in Africa are being coordinated through e-mail and social networks. Failed economic policies and failure by African leaders to relinquish power have been the major cause of the demonstrations.

Attempts to block social networks have been made in Cameroon, Uganda and Swaziland in a bid to stop people from sharing information that could incite the public against the government. But Angola has become the first country to formulate a law that give powers to security forces to search and confiscate data in a bid to prevent the coordination of demonstrations against the government through the Internet.

The Angolan government said the law is justified by the fact that the advancement of the telecom sector, in addition to providing increased production and improved working methods, also facilitates the emergence of new forms of computer crime.

"The law is aimed at stopping people from committing crimes on the internet in the domain of information and communication technology," said Angolan Minister of Telecommunication and Information Technology Jose de Cavalho da Rocha in a phone interview.

As in Many African countries including Zambia, Kenya, Uganda and South Africa, the use of internet and social media by journalists, opposition political parties, civic and human rights activists has become very important in Angola as a way of circumventing the longstanding restrictions on traditional media. Facebook, Twitter and blogs are being used as avenues for discussing economic and political issues.

Last month, Edwardo dos Santos claimed that the internet was being used to organize unauthorized demonstrations.

Daniel Bekele, Africa director at Human Rights Watch said the law would deepen and extend existing restrictions on Angola's media environment and could deter journalists from posting videos of demonstrations and police brutality on the Internet.