Today the National Assembly adopted the General Intelligence Laws Amendment Bill, following a year of sporadic deliberations by the ad hoc committee.
Initially tabled as a “merely technical” document, the Bill’s provisions would have significantly expanded the intelligence mandate of the spies, potentially to include surveillance of legitimate political activity. It further legitimised the much-reported and wholly unconstitutional process of ‘foreign signals’ interception.
The Right2Know Campaign called for a narrowing of the spies’ mandate, increased civilian oversight over securocrats and judicial authorisation of foreign signal interception. While we welcome some of the amendments proposed by the committee which, for instance, make it more difficult for securocrats to monitor lawful political activity, we remain concerned about the unregulated interception of foreign signals.
The initial draft of the Bill allowed monitoring of all foreign signals, opening even domestic communication routed through foreign servers (e.g Skype, Facebook, Twitter) to unwarranted interception in violation of South Africans’ right to privacy. In response, the committee has struck all mention of ‘foreign signals’ from the draft of the Bill , postponing a comprehensive review of interception regulations to the White Paper Review on Intelligence due next year.
This therefore represents a missed opportunity to address a long-standing concern regarding unwarranted interception, described in detail in the Matthews’ Commission report. Right2Know Campaign calls on parliamentarians to appraise fully the detailed recommendations of the Matthews Commission Report in drafting the White Paper.
Democratic governments are as accountable as their most opaque agencies. It is imperative therefore, that the opacity in which our spies necessarily operate is constrained by our Constitutional provisions. The abuse of intelligence remains a dark chapter of our history. The Right2Know campaign will continue to fight for that chapter to be closed, once and for all.