The Right2Know Campaign, Privacy International and the Legal Resources Centre welcome the Gauteng High Court ruling that parts of South Africa’s surveillance law, RICA, are unconstitutional and invalid.
The case was brought by amaBungane Centre for Investigative Journalism after confirming security officials spied on the communications of one of its journalists.
R2K and Privacy International represented by the Legal Resources Centre joined the amaBhungane’s RICA challenge as amici curiae (friends of the court).
There is a growing body of evidence of surveillance abuses in South Africa. In July 2018, R2K published a report on surveillance of journalists in South Africa. An inquiry into the State Security Agency launched by President Cyril Ramaphosa found widespread corruption and criminality and evidence that civil society organisations were spied on.
“We are elated by the judgment that found RICA inconsistent with the Constitution, with the effect of: ending secret spying abuses, by ensuring people whose communications are secretly intercepted are informed within three months unless law-enforcement agencies convince a judge to grant a postponement,” a joint statement said.
It continued ensuring extra safeguards when the state applies for authorisation to intercept communications of journalists or lawyers; ordering the state to stop mass surveillance activities, conducted through the shadowy ‘National Communications Centre’ in Gauteng — without legal regulation; and ordering Parliament to drastically amend RICA within two years to improve the independence and oversight of the ‘RICA judge’ overseeing surveillance requests, and provide clear procedures for state officials to handle intercepted data.
“This is a major victory in the struggle against surveillance abuses in South Africa. At the same time it is just a step forward. Parliament has two years to adopt new legislation.
“To meaningfully protect ordinary people against surveillance, more is needed including the Inspector-General of Intelligence finalising the many investigations of illegal surveillance lodged by members of the public and civil society. No more delays!
“The state must end delays in giving full legal protection to ordinary citizens’ privacy: the Protection of Personal Information Act (POPI) must come into force. The privacy watchdog, the Information Regulator, must show it can act to protect abuse of personal information. All individuals who were illegally surveilled should be appropriately remedied!”