Change to law would give intelligence agencies broad powers of surveillance but do little to safeguard secret funds from looting
Civil society joint statement on the 2023 General Intelligence Laws Amendment Bill
As representatives of a wide range of civil and religious society, we have come together to express our grave concern at the threat posed to South Africa’s democracy by the General Intelligence Laws Amendment Bill 2023 (GILAB), currently under consideration in the National Assembly. We represent a cross-section of sectors and opinions, but share the view that this Bill will bring an intrusion of state security agencies into our society in a way that will undermine our democracy, clear the way for continued over-reach by these State agencies and lay the ground for a return to state capture.
In particular we are concerned that, if passed in its current form, the Bill will:
Give state intelligence agencies the power to do mandatory security vetting of any “person or institution of national security interest”. The bill’s definition of “person or institution of national security interest” is so broad that it potentially gives the state the power to vet any private individual or institution (including non-profit organisations and faith-based organisations – as earlier versions of the bill explicitly tried to do – and even businesses). Security vetting is extremely intrusive and this power is wide open to abuse.
Enhance the security agencies’ powers of mass surveillance through a National Communications Centre with little meaningful oversight and none of the requisite protections for privacy and freedom of expression.
Fail to provide safeguards to prevent the abuse of secret funds that was a key element of state capture at the state security agency. This opens the door to continue illegal expenditure and mismanagement of funds from the secret service account.
Fail to ensure the independence of the Inspector-General of Intelligence, the watchdog of intelligence agencies, and the capacity to enforce their decisions. The era of state capture made clear the need to hold state security to account, but the government continues to hobble the key institution that should fill this role.
Widen the definitions of domestic intelligence, foreign intelligence, intelligence gathering, national security, national security intelligence and threats to national security in a way that would allow for the unconstrained intrusion of these agencies into every nook and cranny of our daily lives – far beyond the legitimate scope of state intelligence.
Give state security agencies power to vet individuals who access national key points such as the SABC. This is a threat to journalistic independence.
These are our key concerns, but not the only ones. Together, we think the Bill represents an attempt to interfere with civil society and religious institutions to an extent that would threaten our rights to free expression, to organise and assemble, to fully engage in civil and political life, and to religious and cultural practice. Civil society was and remains a key bulwark against state capture, and now we are seeing an attempt to exert control over these institutions.
We, jointly and severally, call on Parliament to ensure the Bill is either withdrawn or redrafted fully to bring it in line with the Constitution and to avoid the embarrassment of a constitutional challenge. And we call on all civil society bodies to join us in this drive to defend our democracy.
Find the bill and track its progress through Parliament here.
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