Sanef condemns alleged illegal surveillance of News24 journalist by Crime Intelligence

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  • The South African National Editors’ Forum has voiced concern about reports of a News24 journalist allegedly being under illegal surveillance by Crime Intelligence.
  • In a letter to CI's boss, News24's lawyer demanded that those involved be "ordered to cease all further unlawful interception".
  • "We reiterate our previous concerns on surveillance of journalists as such targeting to establish sources of information has a chilling impact on media freedom," Sanef said.

The South African National Editors’ Forum (Sanef) has voiced its deep concern about reports of a News24 journalist allegedly under illegal surveillance by Crime Intelligence.

News24 reported on Monday that CI had been asked to cease illegal surveillance and interception of News24’s investigative reporter Jeff Wicks, who has published a series of reports detailing ructions in the top echelons of the police.

In a letter to acting CI boss, Lieutenant-General Yolisa Mokgabudi, News24’s lawyer Willem de Klerk demanded that "those within Crime Intelligence participating in these activities, immediately be ordered to cease all further unlawful interception of News24 journalists' communication, their surveillance and/or general intimidation".

The letter was also dispatched to Judge Bess Nkabinde, who is the designated judge charged with authorising legal interceptions in terms of the Regulation of Interception and Communication Act (RICA), and Setlhomamare Dintwe, the Inspector-General of Intelligence (IGI). Mokgabudi's office has confirmed receipt of the letter, News24 reported.

READ | Rogue Crime Intelligence cops 'bug' News24 investigative journalist

This follows information received by investigative reporter Jeff Wicks from three well-placed and reliable sources that a "counter-intelligence" operation had been launched in February to determine who Wicks' sources for News24's continuing coverage on issues within police management are.

In a statement, Sanef said it was deeply concerned that a News24 journalist had allegedly been subjected to illegal surveillance and interception from Crime Intelligence which, the body added, is a worrying trend, internationally, of targeting journalists to curtail factual and honest news coverage. 

"Sanef is concerned that emergency pandemic laws, new spy technologies, and the lockdown itself have exposed journalists to even greater threats of surveillance and harassment.

"The threat is amplified when it comes to investigative reporters around the world who have been forced to tighten their digital safety habits, out of concern that local and international intelligence units are targeting them.

"We reiterate our previous concerns on surveillance of journalists as such targeting to establish sources of information has a chilling impact on media freedom.

"It also has consequences for whistle-blowers who often are the first point of contact for revealing information of public importance including corrupt and criminal activities inside government and other state institutions," the editors' body said.

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Sanef further called for transparency and an assurance from CI and other intelligence agencies to stop targeting journalists in any surveillance.

It also condemned the bulk interception of journalists, as well their sources, stating that they must be protected, and that journalists must be notified after being bugged.

Sanef warned journalists and media houses that they should not allow the apparent ubiquity of online threats to have a chilling effect on their investigations, by using basic digital hygiene for most investigations, and by upgrading to advanced security and low-tech methods for stories that they pre-identify as high risk.

"While not every story requires burner phones and end-to-end encryption, the Global Investigative Journalism Network says the heightened hacking threat posed by pandemic conditions means that — 'like flossing your teeth' — certain hygiene principles are no longer optional, like using password managers, always updating apps, using two-factor authentication, and recognising that phones represent the primary vulnerability."

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