Draft Protection of Information Bill

One of the laws which assisted the apartheid regime in its dying days was the Protection of Information Act, part of the “internal security” package which resulted from the Rabie Commission of Inquiry.

Our Constitution was drafted in the spirit of “never again”, of which we are reminded as we celebrate the birthday of our founding President, Nelson Mandela. It is deeply disturbing that our post-apartheid government now sponsors an act with the same title as that used by the apartheid regime. Although its content differs, some provisions in the draft Protection of Information Bill fit quite neatly into the apartheid legislation, especially the wide discretion given to “organs of state” to classify information as confidential, secret or top secret. The top bureaucrats will be given an almost unlimited discretion, with no effective means of challenging their decisions other than costly, time-consuming and difficult review applications to the courts.

There are many other potentially unconstitutional aspects of the draft bill which others have pointed out.

Freedom Under Law focuses on threats to the rule of law, one of the basic values of our Constitution, and on “openness, accountability and responsiveness” of government, equally basic values of our democracy. We urge Parliament to review the Bill\’s terms, to ensure that it complies with the Constitution, rather than forcing a challenge to its constitutionality in the courts.