Redraft intelligence laws amendments in line with the Constitution

OUTA submits concerns to parliament on General Intelligence Laws Amendment Bill

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15/02/2024 10:35:17

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Redraft intelligence laws amendments in line with the Constitution

The Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (OUTA) has submitted a detailed critique of the General Intelligence Laws Amendment Bill (GILAB) to parliament. This submission comes in response to the invitation extended to the public to provide written feedback on the bill, which opened on 17 December 2023.

OUTA, representing the interests of concerned citizens and stakeholders, expresses deep apprehension regarding the potential implications of the GILAB on South Africa's democracy. The organisation firmly believes that certain provisions within the bill could lead to unwarranted intrusion by state security agencies, posing risks to democratic principles and potentially enabling overreach reminiscent of state capture endeavours.

Key concerns raised by OUTA

  • Expansion of state intelligence agencies' vetting powers: OUTA is concerned about the broad definition of “person or institution of national security interest” within the bill, granting excessive authority to state intelligence agencies to conduct mandatory security vetting. The lack of clarity regarding the criteria for identification and the potential for abuse of power are significant worries.

  • Expansion of mass surveillance capabilities: The bill proposes to expand the surveillance powers of state security agencies through the National Communications Centre (NCC) without adequate safeguards for privacy and freedom of expression. The oversight mechanisms outlined fall short of constitutional standards and risk granting unchecked surveillance powers to the government.

  • Failure to deliver on oversight and accountability: Despite previous findings highlighting deficiencies in oversight and accountability within the State Security Agency (SSA), the GILAB fails to address these crucial issues. Neglecting to ensure the independence of oversight bodies and failing to prevent the misuse of secret funds undermine accountability and perpetuate the risk of abuse of power.

  • Expanding the definitions of national security: The bill broadens several definitions related to national security, creating ambiguity and allowing for the unchecked intrusion of state intelligence agencies into various aspects of citizens’ lives. The vague language leaves room for misinterpretation and potential misuse of power by the state.

OUTA urges parliament to reconsider

We call on parliament to:

  • Withdraw or comprehensively redraft the GILAB to align it with the Constitution and avoid potential constitutional challenges. This redrafting should involve extensive public consultation and input from relevant stakeholders.

  • Implement focused, proportionate, and risk-based measures for reforming oversight and accountability in state security agencies. This should include strengthening the independence and effectiveness of oversight bodies, enhancing transparency, and ensuring adherence to constitutional principles and international human rights standards.

  • Ensure meaningful and inclusive public participation in the legislative process to safeguard against potential abuses of power and protect citizens’ rights and freedoms.

In conclusion, OUTA emphasises the importance of preserving democratic principles and protecting citizens’ rights in the face of legislative changes. The organisation looks forward to parliament’s response and hopes that its concerns will be given due consideration.

More information

Soundclips with comment by Advocate Stefanie Fick, OUTA Executive Director, are here in English and here in Afrikaans.

OUTA's submission to the Ad hoc Committee on the General Intelligence Laws Amendment Bill is here.

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