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The Ministry of State Security appeared, for the second time, before the Adhoc Committee that is working on the Protection of Information Bill.
We used this opportunity to further provide details on our proposals to make this bill better in terms of content, organisation and application.
This work follows our interaction with the committee on 17 September 2010, where we provided our initial response to the inputs made by the public during the hearings.
On the occasion of today's interaction with the committee, we reiterated that our intentions with this bill are clear and well articulated. We reflected on the international guiding principles on national security matters and access to information. We emphasised the need to further work on this bill, to produce the piece of legislation to deal with the challenges of information peddling, espionage and illegal alteration and loss of state information. In addition, the legislation would result in ensuring that citizens of this country are short changed of their right of access to information.
We are on record having stating exactly which categories of information require protection. In this regard, we proposed that concept of ‘national interest' be deleted completely from the bill. This is a huge development which deals effectively with the fears expressed that ‘anything and everything' could be classified on the basis of this concept.
We further proposed that the concept of ‘commercial information' be deleted and instead use the definition as provided for in the Promotion of Access to Information Act (PAIA).
Clearly, with all the fundamental amendments we have proposed and are still proposing, this bill will take a new shape and will not be passed in its present form.
In today's interaction with the committee, we:
• emphasised that our approach is based on the international best practice, which are in line with the provisions of our own Constitution
• clarified what information we seek to protect, this in the wake of the continued distortion of our position in this regard. Government is not using this bill to classify information on corruption, inefficiencies and maladministration, amongst other things. The information we seek to protect is that which is already not meant to be in the public domain, in terms of PAIA.
The other category is information which is vital to the national security of this country, in terms of:
• hostile acts of foreign intervention
• terrorist and related activities
• information peddling
• unlawful acts against the constitutional order.
We wish to indicate, once more that having considered seriously the submissions to create a section on defences in this bill, we remain convinced that conceding to such a demand would be tantamount to shredding the bill even before it becomes law.
We also reiterate our view that using the public interest as a defence for publishing classified information is not consistent with our approach. As we indicated, public interest should be used for requesting access to such information, as provided for in this bill and in terms of PAIA.
As government, we remain committed to the Constitution as it provides guarantees against the abuse of power. As Deputy President, Mr Kgalema Motlanthe indicated at the opening of the joint meeting of government and South African National Editors Forum (SANEF) last week, "It is therefore surprising that recently draft legislation has been used as a rallying point to project the government as a threat to freedom of expression, including freedom of the media,".
It is our hope that our second submission to the Adhoc Committee for consideration will clarify our approach and will take the debate forward.