Different legal representative at the high court in Pretoria during an application by amaBhungane against Rica's surveillance regulations laws. Picture: Brenda Masilela / ANA

Durban - The Right2Know Campaign, Privacy International, and the Legal Resources Centre have welcomed the Gauteng High Court ruling on Monday that said parts of South Africa’s surveillance law, RICA, were unconstitutional and invalid.

The case was brought by the amaBhungane Centre for Investigative Journalism after confirming that security officials had spied on the communications of one of its journalists. 

R2K and Privacy International, represented by the Legal Resources Centre, joined amaBhungane's RICA challenge as amici curiae (friends of the court).  

R2K said on Monday night that there was a growing body of evidence of surveillance abuses in South Africa.  

"In July 2018, R2K published a report on surveillance of journalists in South Africa. An inquiry into the State Security Agency launched by President Cyril Ramaphosa found widespread corruption and criminality in the SSA, and evidence that civil society organisations had been spied on."

RICA was found to be inconsistent with the Constitution, with the effect of:

- Ending secret spying abuses, by ensuring that people whose communications were secretly intercepted by the state were informed within three months, unless law-enforcement agencies convinced a judge to grant a postponement.

- Ensuring extra safeguards when the state applied for authorisation to intercept communications of journalists or lawyers.

- Ordering the state to stop mass surveillance activities, which it had been conducting through the National Communications Centre in Gauteng, without any legal regulation.

- Ordering parliament to drastically amend RICA within two years, to improve the independence and oversight of the ‘RICA judge’ who oversees surveillance requests, and to provide clear procedures for how state officials handled data that they had intercepted.

"This is a major victory in the struggle against surveillance abuses in South Africa. But it is also just a step forward. The South African parliament has two years to adopt a new legislation. To meaningfully protect ordinary people against the climate of surveillance, much more is needed.

"The Inspector-General of Intelligence must finalise the many investigations of illegal surveillance lodged by members of the public and civil society. No more delays!" said R2K. 

In addition, the organisation said, the state must end the delays in giving full legal protection to ordinary citizens’ privacy; the Protection of Personal Information Act (POPI) must be brought into force. Privacy watchdog, the Information Regulator, must show that it could act to protect against abuse of people’s personal information. All individuals that were illegally surveilled should be appropriately remedied. 

African News Agency (ANA)