Spy bill unconstitutional and compromises democratic values, AfriForum warns

The civil rights organisation AfriForum today strongly denounced the General Intelligence Laws Amendment Bill (GILAB) in a written submission made to the parliamentary ad hoc committee on GILAB. In its submission, AfriForum emphasised that the proposed amendments are not only unconstitutional but also compromise the very democratic values it aims to uphold.

The expansion of vetting powers proposed in GILAB is a matter of profound concern. According to AfriForum the broad and ambiguous definition of “person or institution of national security interest”, as it is currently defined in the bill, raises apprehensions about potential infringements on freedom of association and the right to privacy. AfriForum believes that such extensive vetting powers may lead to undue surveillance and may affect civil society in particular.

According to Jacques Broodryk, Chief Spokesperson for AfriForum’s division of Community Safety, it is deeply concerning that GILAB seeks to mandate mandatory security “vetting” for the operation of civil society and private institutions in South Africa. “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 cadreism that has caused the ruling party to rot to its core,” states Broodryk.

AfriForum’s submission also addresses the inadequacies in oversight of mass surveillance capabilities introduced by GILAB. The attempt to legalise the National Communications Centre’s (NCC) operations lacks essential safeguards for privacy and freedom of expression, risking unchecked surveillance powers with insufficient protection against potential abuses. “It is clear that, despite the 2021 Constitutional Court decision declaring the NCC’s operations as unlawful, the GILAB aims to push on with this practice through which mass interception of various types of communication – such as internet data traffic and phone conversations – could potentially be undertaken,” says Broodryk.

“Do not forget how often corruption whistle-blowers are targeted in this country. Take Babita Deokaran, who was murdered in August 2021 in an attempt to cover up government corruption, for instance. Her cellphone was monitored and traced for weeks before her violent death. Now, the same corrupt government wants more powers to spy on civilians? I cannot see how any good can come of this,” says Broodryk.

“This is the same government, who in the past used advanced cellphone signal jamming technology to prevent the media from reporting on events during the State of the Nation Address. That is not the behaviour of a mature democratic government but rather that of a Cold War era, Soviet-funded, terrorist organisation. It would be unwise to reward such behaviour with even more tyrannical intelligence powers,” concludes Broodryk.

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