Fears over ‘Spy Bill’ vetting powers as public comments close

Fears over ‘Spy Bill’ vetting powers as public comments close. Photographer: Armand Hough. African News Agency (ANA)

Fears over ‘Spy Bill’ vetting powers as public comments close. Photographer: Armand Hough. African News Agency (ANA)

Published Feb 15, 2024


As the window for public comments on the controversial General Intelligence Laws Amendment Bill (GILAB), aka “Spy Bill”, officially closes on Friday, it continues to face scrutiny over the increased “vetting power” proposed.

Published during November 2023, the bill seeks to amend a number of security laws in a bid to counter the erosion of the country’s State Security Agency (SSA) and effectively overhaul it, among other changes.

This includes addressing the 2019 Constitutional Court findings, which struck down parts of the RICA surveillance law, while at the same time amend three existing laws relating to intelligence structures, namely the National Strategic Intelligence Act, the Intelligence Services Act, and the Intelligence Oversight Act.

The changes follow the findings of the High-Level Review Panel and the Commission of Inquiry into State Capture, which held the view that the agency had become an intelligence structure serving a faction of the ruling party, in particular, the personal interests of the sitting president of the party, at the time being former president Jacob Zuma.

Civil rights organisation AfriForum, however, in its submission to the parliamentary ad hoc committee recently, has denounced the proposed amendments, labelling them as not only being unconstitutional, but could also compromise the democratic values it was meant to uphold.

Jacques Broodryk, chief spokesperson for AfriForum’s division of Community Safety, said changes such as the expansion of vetting powers proposed in the Spy Bill were a matter of profound concern for them, as it contained among them an ambiguous definition of “person or institution of national security interest”.

Broodryk said that as it stood, the broadness and lack of clarity in the definition raised apprehension about the potential infringement on the freedom of association and right to privacy.

“We believe that such extensive vetting powers may lead to undue surveillance and may affect civil society in particular.”

The concern comes as the bill also proposes for non-governmental organisations, religious organisations, and security companies to be vetted by intelligence agencies.

“This is, however, not surprising, as civil society organisations have become the single biggest thorn in the corrupt ANC government’s side when it comes to keeping them accountable. The ‘thorn burns even more, seeing as the government’s own Chapter 9 institutions have become infected by the same cadre’ism that has caused the ruling party to rot to its core,” said Broodryk.

He further explained that the attempt to legalise the National Communications Centre’s (NCC) operations lacked essential safeguards for privacy and freedom of expression, risking unchecked surveillance powers with insufficient protection against potential abuses.

Citing the February 2021 Constitutional Court declaration that the NCC’s operations were unlawful, Broodryk stressed how despite this the Spy Bill now sought to push on with this practice, meaning mass interception of various types of communication could potentially be undertaken.

The Star

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