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Media bodies urge rethink on SA cyber security bill

Media bodies urge rethink on SA cyber security bill.

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has called on the South African government to revise provisions in the proposed Cyber Crimes and Cyber Security bill.

Under the bill, journalists and members of the public could be prosecuted for possessing or disclosing State information, according to a statement from CPJ.

CPJ said the proposed bill would impose police and intelligence control over the internet and enable State security ministers to declare certain topics off limits. A lack of public interest defence in the bill, which would have allowed state information to be shared in the interest of exposing corruption or wrongdoing has also been criticised.

CPJ Africa Programme Coordinator Sue Valentine said, "While we appreciate South Africa must define and proscribe cybercrime, it must do so in line with international best practice regarding access to information and with respect to its own constitution."

She added, "The constitution explicitly prioritises the building of a democracy and open society and enshrines privacy rights for citizens."

Association for Progressive Communications (APC) executive director Anriette Esterhuysen said the organisation has reservations regarding the bill as it stands.

She said in her submission that the bill is not framed from the perspective of public interest and therefore compromises those in possession of information or data such as journalists, journalists' sources, bloggers and whistleblowers with the intention of sharing the data or publishing it to expose corruption or wrongdoing.

"This is likely to create a chilling environment on free expression, access to information, transparency and accountability in South Africa," Esterhuysen said.

The Right2know Campaign South Africa also plans a petition calling for the reviewing of the bill to protect South Africans' right to privacy.

So far, over 5, 000 supporters have signed an online petition that will be sent to the Department of Justice demanding that the bill be withdrawn.

The organisation claims that the bill in its current form is so broad that it threatens the basic democratic spirit of the internet.

Zambian human rights lawyer Wilfred Zulu from Zulu and Company Advocates said if the drafters of the bill, the Department of Justice bows to pressure, it will have to amend or repeal contentious clauses or paragraphs to put the bill in line with people's demand before it is taken to parliament.

He said the reason why bills are subjected to public scrutiny and comments is to allow for changes that may be in bad taste to the public in order to strike a balance between the law and the public.

"So if the South African bill is taken to parliament in its current form for some reason, then lawmakers may decide to shoot it down until the needed changes are made," Zulu said.

He added that if parliament decides also to allow the bill to go through in its current form, the South African President can then decide not to assent to the bill due to public outcry until some changes are made.

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