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Friday, 14 November 2014 09:28

Accepted Information Bill to be Challenged in the Constitutional Court

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info-bill.jpgAfter nearly three years of controversy and drafting changes, the Bill will come another step closer to law on Tuesday when MPs on the committee vote on the final draft of the Bill, to which these changes have been added.  Various parties voted with the ruling party in accepting the NCOP recommendations, but still argued against the bill as a whole because of some defects.  Attempts to get the ANC to consider further amendments failed.  These opposition organisations and parties declared therefore that they are going to oppose the bill in the Constitutional Court if signed into law by President Jacob Zuma in its latest form.  They therefore petition President Jacob Zuma to refer the bill back for reconsideration because the bill is unconstitutional. The matter is therefore far from over.

The Right2Know, stated that although happy with changes, the public interest defence remained inadequate.  There was a need for a "public domain defence", he said, which meant that once a state secret was already in the public domain, a person could not be prosecuted.  The Right2Know campaign has also already briefed its lawyers.

The bill seeks to create a new system for the classification and declassification of state information. It was widely criticised in its original form for the heavy prison terms provided for those found guilty of being illegally in possession of state secrets for revealing them. It was strongly argued that if disclosing a state secret was shown to be in the public interest, then this should constitute a defence in court — the so-called public interest defence.  There is now a limited public interest defence in the bill.

However, "the bill would still criminalise ordinary citizens for possessing classified information — even information already in the freedom of speechpublic domain. In other words, any ordinary citizen accessing a leaked document in the public domain could face jail penalties of between five and 25 years. The bill promotes a concept of national security that is still broadly defined and open to abuse, which will risk over-classification by state and private bodies."



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