South African Panel Renews Deliberations on Secrecy Bill

29 July 2011

Consideration of the controversial Protection of Information Bill (POIB) by a committee of the South African Parliament resumed this week with debate focused on a new definition of national security.

The multi-day deliberations this week included an indication that the ruling African National Congress party will “at least consider proposals for extending protection to those who disclose classified information for the public good,” according to a report by the South Africa Press Association on the July 29 session.

“The ruling party insisted that it would not countenance a classic public interest defence for media in the Protection of Information Bill – a battle cry of critics of the draft act – but said it would consider different opposition proposals for safeguards,” according to SAPA’s report.

On the other hand, ANC lawmakers on July 27 “proposed increasing the instances in which information can be classified to protect national security in a divisive new development on the protection of information bill,” according to SAPA, which further reported:

Raising the spectre of WikiLeaks, ruling party MP Luwellyn Landers called for secrecy to apply to protect South Africa not only from attack, but also from information-peddling and the exposure of economic dossiers and state security matters.

Asked by the Democratic Alliance why he wanted to insert three new causes for classification into the bill, Landers replied: “How can the exposure of a matter of state security not affect our national security?

The Times called the proposal a sweeping definition that would allow security structures to classify a wide range of information as secret” and said the proposal “reintroduces some of the justifications that opposition lobbyists had presumed to be off the table.”

The ANC’s proposal states:

National security means the protection of the people of the republic and the terrorial integrity of the republic against a) The threat of use of force or use of force; b) The following acts: i) Hostile acts of foreign intervention; ii) Terrorism or terrorist related activities; iii) Espionage; iv) Information peddling; v) Exposure of a state security matter; vi) Exposure of economic, scientific or technological secrets vital to the republic’s stability, security, integrity and development; vii) Sabotage; and viii) Violence, whether directed from or committed within the republic or not, and includes the capacity of the Republic to respond to the use of or the threat of the use of force and carrying out of the Republic’s responsibilities to any foreign country and international organisations in relation to any of the matters referred to in this definition.

The proposal drew criticisms for its definition of information peddling, among other things.

The ad hoc committee handling the bill agreed to create a review panel to oversee the classification of information.

Deliberations on the bill resumed July 25. The ANC in June some concessions, including removing mandatory jail sentences for disclosure and restricting the power to classify to the intelligence and security structures. (See previous report.) The deadline for reporting a bill  is now Sept. 23

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