State security agencies and private sector spied on journalists - Right2Know

Advocacy group Right2Know (R2K) released a report on Wednesday documenting how South African journalists were spied on by various state security agencies and the private sector.

The report, titled Spooked - Surveillance of Journalists in South Africa, reveals how several journalists who have exposed corruption have been targeted.

The report says that surveillance of journalists can put whistleblowers and other confidential sources at risk.

"Let's remember that everyone has the right to privacy. Nobody's communication should ever be spied on unless they are facing a legitimate investigation for serious criminal activity. But journalists' communications are especially sensitive," the group said.   

Although the Regulation of Interception of Communication Act (RICA) was introduced as a crime-fighting measure, Right2Know said there was no convincing evidence that this had improved the government's crime-fighting capacity.

'RICA failing to protect journalists'

The law had failed to protect journalists and the general public, it said. 

The report also stated that in 2017, amaBhungane launched a court bid after it emerged that journalist Sam Sole had been spied on by the National Intelligence Agency, now called the State Security agency. 

"For months, government agents listened to the confidential discussions he had with sources, as well as all of his personal calls with friends and loved ones.

"AmaBhungane has told the court that when the government spied on Sam Sole, RICA failed to protect him. They have told the court that RICA is unconstitutional because it fails to protect the rights of journalists and others against surveillance abuses," it said.  

The group has joined the matter as a friend of the court.

The advocacy group is now calling for an overhaul of the RICA Act that forces South Africans to provide their personal details before buying a SIM card.

Call to scrap SIM card registration

R2K says it wants an end to SIM card registration and also transparency within RICA, which means anyone who has been targeted for surveillance would eventually be notified once any investigation against them was concluded. 

"In all the case studies documented here, the journalist who was spied on only found out about it through accident, coincidence or via confidential source - without which it would be impossible to get any recourse," it says. 

In its report, the group also highlights the vetting of SABC journalists as an abuse of the public broadcasters 'national key point' status. 

It says the journalists need to be protected from harassment, intimidation and interception. 

In addition, it calls on newsrooms to strengthen information security to protect the privacy of journalists and urges that, when there is evidence or a reasonable suspicion of abuse by intelligence structures, they should lay a complaint with the inspectors general of intelligence or report the issue to the police.

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