OUTA calls for a redraft of the intelligence laws amendment bill

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The Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (OUTA) is deeply concerned about the implications of the General Intelligence Laws Amendment Bill (GILAB), believing it risks compromising democratic principles, and has submitted a list of concerns 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. Representing the interests of concerned citizens and stakeholders, OUTA expressed “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.”

The key concerns raised by OUTA include:

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, it said.

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,” OUTA said.

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 the bill and calls on parliament to withdraw or comprehensively redraft the GILAB to align it with the Constitution and avoid potential constitutional challenges,” the organisation said.

OUTA wants to 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.”