Johannesburg - The State Security Agency (SSA), the country’s main spy agency, is to be prohibited from collecting intelligence on lawful political activity and dissent within South Africa.
But the country’s spies will not need to get authorisation from a judge before they bug e-mails and phone calls between people in South Africa and those in other countries.
This comes after a parliamentary committee charged with making a draft law to govern the mandate of the agency agreed to some last-minute amendments before formally adopting the General Intelligence Laws Amendment Bill yesterday.
A report on the ad hoc committee’s proceedings has not yet been adopted, but committee members say this “technicality” will be seen to as soon as Parliament reconvenes.
The committee’s adoption of the bill is the first stage in its becoming law. It will now be sent to the National Assembly.
The bill, known as the spy bill, provides a legal foundation for the merger of the functions of all civilian intelligence agencies into one “mother agency”.
Previous “individual” intelligence structures, such as the South African Secret Service and the National Intelligence Agency, were merged into the new agency, together with the National Communications Centre and the spy academy.
The police and the military, however, maintain their own intelligence structures.
The main DA amendment, which limited the agency’s mandate to investigate threats to “national security” - instead of the broader “stability of the Republic” - was included in the final bill.
The definition of national security does not include lawful political activism and civil dissent.
“This means the SSA will now be prohibited by national legislation from collecting intelligence on lawful political activity in South Africa,” said DA MP David Maynier, who serves on the committee.
ANC amendments excluded the application of the Regulation of Interception Act from foreign communications intercepted by the agency.
This means the agency will not have to have judicial authorisation to bug e-mail and phone traffic to foreign countries.
Dennis Dlomo, the acting director-general of the agency, said the draft bill did not give the state’s intelligence sector increased powers.