State can spy on citizens – report

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The Sunday Times yesterday reported that South African law enforcement agencies obtained 826 court orders to intercept the communications of suspected criminals between 2006 and 2010.

The newspaper adds that, in that time, the government intercepted three million calls and e-mails. It says that this translates into around 3 600 interceptions for every order granted and access to about 80 000 conversations each month.

The Sunday Times says confirmation of the interceptions is contained in a briefing by the Office of Interception Centres to the Parliamentary joint standing committee on intelligence. It notes that information for the past three years is not available publicly.

According to the report, the information provided by designated judges who authorise the interceptions shows that the crime intelligence unit of the South African Police Service (SAPS) had a 231% spike in interceptions and applications between 2009 and 2010.

It adds that the SAPS unit applied for 325 interception directives and was granted 300 compared with 98 the previous year, of which 84 were approved.

Interception has been known to happen, a lawyer has previously told ITWeb, while the 2006 Matthews Commission on Intelligence found that “bulk interception” and “environmental monitoring” was being undertaken by the National Communications Centre (NCC).

ITWeb reported earlier this month that the so-called Spy Bill has been signed off by the National Council of Provinces and is now only awaiting president Jacob Zuma’s signature before being passed into law, allowing state security agencies carte blanche to intercept foreign electronic communication signals.

The General Intelligence Laws Amendment Bill deals with state security agencies’ ability to monitor and intercept signals, but the final version has omitted the previous reference to foreign signals, creating concern that there are no rules in place as to how the government can monitor and intercept communications passing through foreign servers.



Interception of local electronic communication is governed by the Regulation of Interception of Communications and Provision of Communication-Related Information Act (RICA). However, this law has no bearing on foreign communication signals, allowing state agencies to monitor communications that go through a foreign server, without judicial oversight, if the law is signed off.