Picture: 123RF/RAJESH RAJENDRAN NAIR
Picture: 123RF/RAJESH RAJENDRAN NAIR

SA’s surveillance legislation has failed in several ways to protect journalists’ communications‚ a report compiled by the Right2Know (R2K) campaign says.

The report‚ titled Spooked‚ was launched on Wednesday in Johannesburg.

"This latest R2K report looks at a range of case studies of journalists who appear to have been spied on‚ to unpack what happened‚ how it happened‚ and which parties appear to be responsible‚" the organisation said.

The aim is of the report‚ according to the organisation‚ is to give journalists a better picture of the threats they might face so they can better defend themselves, and to rally the broader public to ensure an end to these surveillance abuses and the bad policies that enable them.

According to the report‚ the Regulation of Interception of Communications and Provision of Communication related Information Act (Rica) has failed to protect journalists’ communications — along with that of the general public.

R2K says it tabled a list of demands for surveillance reform with the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development‚ several of which are "of special importance to addressing the weaknesses in Rica that have put the journalists in this publication at risk".

The demands include that there be "greater transparency within Rica‚ including ‘user notification’ (whereby anyone who has been targeted for surveillance is eventually notified once any investigation against them is concluded); and an end to the mandatory storing of users’ meta-data (records of who you communicated with, and your location‚ which, by law, is currently stored for up to five years by service providers). This system creates a huge vulnerability for journalists and their sources."

The organisation also demanded an end to SIM card registration‚ which it says prevents anonymous communication but is easily circumvented by criminals, "so it is mainly law-abiding citizens who are subject to Rica data-collection and storage. There is no convincing evidence that this policy has improved the state’s crime-fighting capacity".

The Right2Know campaign conducted case studies with journalists whose communication was intercepted using Rica. According to its report, "In all the case studies documented here‚ the journalist who was spied on only found out about it [by] accident‚ coincidence or via a confidential source — without which it would be impossible to get any recourse."

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