Despite concerns at the rushed nature of public hearings which did not allow for sufficient public debate and deliberation on the Bill, we welcome the genuine attempt made by parliamentarians to engage with a number of the key civil society concerns.
In particular we welcome the narrowing of the securocratic mandate, which had effectively required state-security operatives to intrude into democratic spaces and monitor lawful political activity. This has led to growing concerns that South Africa is dealing with an increasingly powerful, politicised and unaccountable state-security sector.
However, we note that the committee has stopped short of addressing our concerns around ‘foreign signals intelligence’, where a lack of regulation has led to fears of unfettered surveillance and monitoring of surveillance. The right to privacy is at the heart of our democratic freedom, enabling ordinary people – both citizens and foreign nationals – to hold political views and to organise political programs without fear. We therefore remain concerned that monitoring of ‘foreign signals’, including electronic communication passing through a foreign server (such as emails, Facebook and Skype) is not clearly regulated.
We raised concerns about the extraordinarily broad mandate of the state-security department essentially made it the watchdog of every aspect of our political, social and economic life, and created a framework to intrude on legitimate political activity (which has led in the past to interference in the work of social movements such as Abahlali baseMjondolo, and alleged monitoring of environmental justice activists in the lead-up to COP17).
The mandate is still somewhat broad but tighter nonetheless, with amendments to remove lawful political activity and advocacy, or acts of ‘dissent’, from the mandate of the state-security sector.CONCERN 2
We raised concern that the Bill fails to address gaping loopholes in the regulation of monitoring of communications, which has contributed towards the illegal monitoring identified by the 2006 Matthews Commission on Intelligence. We called for these loopholes to be tightened – all forms of monitoring must be subject to a judge’s permission and must have rigorous oversight and reporting to prevent the abuse of ‘national security’ as a means of intruding on individuals’ right to privacy.
Instead of introducing these regulations, Parliament has missed a major opportunity to clamp down on unlawful monitoring of communications. Instead, this debate has been delayed for a future policy review (scheduled for 2013/14) and the current lack of regulation will prevail, potentially leaving this opportunity for abuse untouched.