Nothing sinister about spy bill: Burgess

2012-03-28 16:26

Cape Town - The general intelligence laws amendment bill is not an attempt to impose a secret shadow state on South Africa, the head of Parliament's ad hoc committee reviewing the measure said on Wednesday.

Speaking at the end of public hearings on the so-called "spy bill", committee chairperson Cecil Burgess said the proposed State Security Agency (SSA) would not be a background government.

"This is not an attempt to take South Africa into a state of secrecy, where there is... an intelligence entity called the SSA that will be running the country in the background, [which will] subject us to serious oppressive conditions," he said.

There were many people in the intelligence services who had fought for freedom in South Africa and would not want such freedom compromised.

Burgess also noted that comments on the bill in the media had been "somewhat unfriendly".

Privacy and transparency

The whole question of privacy and transparency versus the needs of the intelligence community was something all democratic countries grappled with.

"On the one side there is an attempt to get as much accountability and transparency as possible; on the other, there is a concern that too much of this... is going to endanger the safety of the country and national security," he said.

Earlier, the committee heard submissions from several civil society organisations on the bill.

The measure aims to amend the 1994 National Strategic Intelligence Act, the 1994 Intelligence Services Oversight Act, and the 2002 Intelligence Services Act.

It further seeks to repeal the 2002 Electronic Communications Security (Pty) Ltd Act, and amalgamate the National Intelligence Agency and the SA Secret Service into a single, centralised intelligence body, the SSA.


Critics warn that the measure will allow the secret services to eavesdrop to a greater extent on the communications of private citizens, without the need for permission from a judge.

They also say it does not sufficiently take into account recommendations of the 2008 Matthews report.

The report - commissioned by former intelligence minister Ronnie Kasrils - recommended, among other things, tighter control over the involvement of intelligence agencies in domestic political affairs.

Burgess told the hearing on Wednesday government had made it clear the report of the Matthews Commission "has no status".

Among the organisations making presentations at the hearing was Right2Know (R2K), the coalition of people and organisations opposed to the controversial protection of information bill.


R2K national co-ordinator Murray Hunter told the hearings that among his organisation's concerns, was that the bill promoted a "dangerously broad intelligence mandate", which needed to be more clearly and narrowly defined.

It also expanded intelligence bodies' powers to intercept electronic communications, without adequate regulation and proper judicial oversight.

"We also believe the bill has the potential to diminish public oversight of state intelligence bodies," he said.

Democratic Alliance committee member David Maynier said the findings of the Matthews report remained valid.

"Even though the government regards it as a no-status report, that does not invalidate its findings," he said.

  • cyanideandhappiness - 2012-03-28 16:35

    Sure, that's exactly what someone who was trying to impose a secret shadow state on South Africa would say... Trust me people, they are trying to set up a Police State Control Grid right here in RSA, exactly the same as the one set up in the USA.

      Mark - 2012-03-28 16:58

      The fact, that Cecil Burgess is playing down, is that this bill passed in it's current form, CAN be abused by Government - he misses the whole point of a constitutional democracy, because his ilk don't like it.

      Martin De Lange - 2013-07-25 18:31

      Doug, they are setting these up all over the world. We are living in The Matrix, and it will become increasingly so.

  • Ryan - 2012-03-28 16:42

    Big brother is watching you!

      Godfrey - 2012-03-28 22:27

      May Burgess and all the ANC cronies live long enoght to face their Frankinstein, should it come to life.

  • mnbain - 2012-03-28 16:57

    Nothing to see here people... move along

      mnbain - 2012-03-28 18:14

      That's what you are told when there really is something to see... sheesh people

  • Peter - 2012-03-28 17:01

    I simply do not believe you. Your party is threatening democracy at every turn - media, courts and long goal terms for people who publish "state secrets" even if doing so is in the public interest. Unfortunately it turns out that far too many of your buddies fought for freedom to exploit, bribe, steal and control, not for democracy.

      Antonio - 2012-03-31 11:27

      The revolution was all about SHOPPING!

      Antonio - 2012-03-31 11:29

      How many MK cadres died, how many protesters were killed ... so that the Zuma elite-in-waiting could sing at Polokwane: "It's our turn to eat now."

  • phaldiemeyer - 2012-03-28 17:07

    No to spy bill, did you not see what the previuos regime did because they were allowed to have secrets "in the socalled national intersts"!! Eventually it will be used by the government of the day, in this case ANC, for subversive means and nobody will be able to investigate them. This ANC should know better, they want to use the these laws to make sure they can spy on opposing political parties and individuals!

  • Gavin - 2012-03-28 17:09

    Yeah right, pull the other one it's got a big f'ing bell attached to it.

  • bluzulu - 2012-03-28 17:14

    RSA will not be another US Federal democracy (Fedocracy)

      Mark - 2012-03-28 17:22

      Bluzulu. Does this mean you don't like the Western Cape being in Opposition hands?

      bluzulu - 2012-03-28 17:30

      No , I never said that. I said RSA must not become an American Federal Democracy.

      Mark - 2012-03-28 17:38

      Glad to hear it.

      cyanideandhappiness - 2012-03-28 19:40

      I dont know why your thumbs downing bluzulu, he's absolutely right, we do not want a bloated overpowered federal government, if that happens, regions like the western cape will no longer have the control and power to operate separately from the idiots in the ANC and reach the levels of performance that they currently have. This is what has happened in the US... And beware, they have suggested removing provincial governments in the veil of streamlining government, but that will be the end of democracy as we know it. The ANC will try push this in the future. Small government was the key to the USA's original success and they have all but destroyed that now. Thumbs up bluzulu!

      schalk.mattheys - 2012-03-29 09:31

      "Perhaps the most obvious political effect of controlled news is the advantage it gives powerful people in getting their issues on the political agenda and defining those issues in ways likely to influence their resolution.": W. Lance Bennett - Author, professor at University of Washington Source: News: The Politics of Illusion, 1983

  • andrew.arnesen - 2012-03-28 17:24

    How can you have "too much" "open-ness and transparency"?? The very fact that he links the Bill to those concepts proves that they WANT to HIDE their activities. And, just because it isn't sinister now doesn't mean that it a. couldn't become sinister in future and b. be used to cover up sinister deeds. These people just don't geddit!!

  • Rob - 2012-03-28 17:59

    Trust him, he is a doctor.........!!!!! His track record of loyalty says it all.

  • Antonio - 2012-03-31 11:25

    I often think that South Africans do not really deserve a free press. That maybe they should just be dished up a diet of government press releases (talk about single-source stories!) Imagine a newspaper with the front page lead about some non-event created by the Public Works PR department, announcing a new road works development. The first quote comes from the minister of public works, followed by additional quotes. The next quote comes from a director general in Public Works. The next quote comes from the Premier in the province where the project is being launched. The next quote comes from one or more mayors in the towns that stand to benefit. There's a picture of poor people travelling on a pot-holed road; or of the premier holding a space, standing in front of some workers at the road site. Then there are quotes from some people who live in the area, telling how happy they are about the new project. Blah, blah, blah. Imagine if your newspaper is full of that. Then there are the ubiquitous "corruption stories", where yesterday's elites are now 'exposed' and 'paraded' before the public who called upon to shout "Phantsi, phantsi!" And their characters are assassinated in the interests of the power ambitions of the new elites. And in all this, the critical PUBLIC is turned into an unthinking and servile MOB, as happened in the French Revolution, in the Chinese Cultural Revolution, and in how many other instances where totalitarianism rules in the name of "The People".

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