July 28, 2010

Secrecy bill declared 'fully constitutional'

Despite a raft of objections to the government's "secrecy bill" in public hearings, chief state law adviser Enver Daniels has declared the bill fully constitutional and has dismissed some of the submissions as "emotional and hysterical". He also rejected the numerous calls for a public interest defence for journalists and whistle-blowers exposing wrongdoing by the state. He said this meant anything could be published without taking consequences into consideration. Harsh minimum sentences are imposed in the bill for those caught making public classified information.

Daniels, briefing Parliament's ad hoc committee on the Protection of Information Bill, also rejected suggestions that the definitions of national interest and national security as contained in the bill were overly broad. He said that if a simple, one-line definition had been used then the bill would easily have been labelled arbitrary. Criticism has been that broad definitions will allow almost any government document to be classified.
The fact that the committee gave Daniels free rein to shoot down the submissions in its first meeting after the hearings seems to indicate there is little room for substantive changes to the bill. (Business Day, South Africa)

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