Statement regarding the Protection of State Information Bill
Tuesday, 22 November 2011
The South African Human Rights Commission is concerned that the Protection of State Information Bill in its current form could impact negatively on basic human rights. During its previous presentation the Commission emphasised to Parliament that it is vital that the objectives of our constitutional democracy are in a justifiable and informed balance with the need to protect specific information by organs of state. The Commission has a Constitutional and legislative responsibility for the right to access to information. It emphasised the need for the Bill to be aligned with the Promotion of Access to Information Act, to avoid moving back towards a culture of secrecy which has the potential to undermine our democracy.
While the Commission recognises the need for the State to effectively protect specific information in the interests of the country and the amendments it has made to the Bill to date, it remains concerned that the absence of public interest as a defense creates a strong suspicion of uncontested and complete secrecy.
Despite provisions in the Bill which make false classification unlawful, members of the public and the media will be extremely frustrated in attempting to prove or establish such illegality by virtue of the very provisions of the Bill in the absence of a public interest defense. The Commission expressed its concern about the impact of the Bill on the rights of journalists and whistleblowers who release information in the public interest and face the prospect of lengthy imprisonment sentences in the absence of a public interest defense in the Bill.
SA’s Constitutional Democracy demands that the impact of legislation which could potentially unfairly limit basic rights be approached with extreme caution. The Commission previously recommended to the National Assembly that broader public consultation was necessary. This must happen when the bill is before the National Council of Provinces. Broad consultation will deepen society’s awareness of the Bill. It will also ensure that the views of people who will potentially be negatively impacted by the Bill are taken into account when the NCOP finalises the Bill.
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