- Published on Thursday, 19 April 2012 10:06
- Written by Chris van der Westhuyzen
The ANC’s recent advertising campaign to promote the heavily disputed Protection of State Information Bill amounts to dishonesty and misinformation according to UCT professor of law and constitutional expert, Pierre de Vos at a seminar on Thursday, 12 April.
The minute long advertisement by the Department of State Security portrays the Secrecy Bill as being in the interest of all South Africans by saying it will permit government to ensure the safety of our personal information such as identification documents and birth certificates.
However, de Vos said the advertisement amounted to misinformation, as the issues it raised pertained to only two of the 57 provisions contained in the Protection of State Information Bill.
“The ad is an attempt to promote the bill in its entirety, but it only focuses on two of its clauses, namely to protect the personal information of citizens", explains de Vos, yet "the other 55 clauses, which are responsible for the huge public outcry over the bill, deal with the classification of state security documents, though the ad makes no mention of this”.
He went on to say that existing legislation was already in place to deal with the issues raised in the advertisement.
“The Identification Act of 1997 and the Registration of Births and Deaths Act make it illegal for anyone, including the Department of Home Affairs, to disclose any of the information contained in a citizen’s ID book, for example,” continues de Vos.
During the seminar, hosted by the popular Right2Know campaign that have mobilised civil society in opposition to the Secrecy Bill, a student asked Prof. de Vos whether or not there were laws that prohibited government from using taxpayers’ money to disseminate such false adverts.
De Vos said any government department was free to promote itself, and the recent R3 million advertisement could thus not be deemed a criminal offence. However, he said a case of wasteful expenditure could be made against the Department of State Security.
If passed into law, the Protection of State Information Bill will allow government to make secret any information it considers to be in issue of national security.
“In an ideal world, the bill would not pose any threat,” said de Vos. “However, given the deceit and dishonesty of its recent advertising campaign, I doubt government can be trusted to classify information in a manner that is fair and in line with constitutional values and ethos.”
Murray Hunter, the national coordinator of the Right2Know campaign, said that despite its many disadvantages, the Secrecy Bill offered a great opportunity for South Africans to actively get involved in discussing issues such as transparency and the free flow of information.