South Africa considering invasive interception and monitoring bill

New York, August 3—The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is deeply troubled by South Africa’s proposed Interception and Monitoring Bill, which empowers the police, the National Defense Force, the Intelligence Agency, and the Secret Service to “establish, equip, operate and maintain monitoring centers.”

If adopted, the legislation would allow the government to monitor electronic and cellular communication, in some cases without warrants, under the pretext of curbing organized crime. South African journalists contacted by CPJ expressed concern that such measures would hinder their ability to keep sources contacted via e-mail or cell phones confidential.

“We urge the South African government to consider carefully the broader implications of this legislation for press freedom,” said CPJ executive director Ann Cooper. “The government should not enact provisions that infringe on journalists’ confidentiality.”

According to a July 18 government statement, the Interception and Monitoring Bill “aims to regulate the interception and monitoring of certain communications; to provide for interception of postal articles and communications and for the monitoring of communications in the case of a serious offense, or if the security or other compelling national interests of the republic are threatened.”

The media already face tough strictures under the contentious Section 205 of the Criminal Procedure Act. Authorities have repeatedly used the act to seize journalists’ equipment and to compel them to reveal sources.

In May, authorities cited Section 205 in an attempt to force Cape Times photographer Benny Gool to hand over pictures he took during the killing of Cape Town gangster Rashaad Staggie by the PAGAD vigilante group.

CPJ therefore believes that the Interception and Monitoring Bill will further restrict the autonomy and independence journalists must have in order collect sensitive information in strict confidentiality.

The South African Parliament will vote on the legislation after August 13.