Privacy activists at the Right2Know Campaign aren’t happy about President Zuma’s cabinet reshuffle, and their not shy in saying so. The group, which was formed to protest against the so-called Secrecy Bill and has branched into wider issues around communications and privacy in South Africa has issued an statement in which it critiques the rearrangement of the old Department of Communication into two new entities, and in particular raises concerns over the apparent undermining of ICASA and the new Minister for Telecommunications and Postal Services, Siyabonga Cwele.
Cwele’s new department has been tasked with determining and directing the government’s communication policies, as well as spreading government information.
Since this new Ministry will be “formed out of” the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (Icasa), the SA Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) and the Media Development and Diversity Agency (MDDA), the Right 2 Know campaign is concerned that the government has created a mouthpiece that will disseminate what is, essentially, propaganda.
We must now face the risk that the Ministry of Communications will be used to further weaken the regulatory capacity of Icasa and further undermine the already questionable independence of the SABC, all in service of creating a communication environment compliant to the needs of government messaging, rather than one which best serves the information needs of the people.
The Ministry will also be responsible for drafting government policies on broadcasting and the transformation of the print media. These are both long overdue interventions that should be aimed at diversifying the media landscape and ensuring the sustainability of public and community media. These sensitive regulatory processes must be undertaken to advance freedom of expression and press freedom in particular. They are now in the hands of a Minister with a mandate to ensure that government’s ‘good story’ gets told.
Spook boss now controls the network
The real kicker, though, is that putting Cwele in control of telecoms is more or less on a par with the old Dracula and blood banks adage. R2K describes the decision to place the former Minister of State Security into a position where he will be ultimately responsible for commissioning the National Broadband Network(s) “questionable” – especially in the light of recent revelations about US state surveillance.
In the statement, the group says:
Globally, the revelations by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden have shown why state surveillance and the right to privacy need to be at the centre of any government communications policy. In South Africa there is urgent need for both government and the private telecommunications sector to scrap policies and practices that allow ordinary South Africans’ communications to be intercepted and their privacy to be violated.
Under Dr Cwele’s stewardship of the Ministry of State Security, there have been growing concerns about the use and misuse of interception of communications. (Between 2008 and 2011 – the most recent statistics available through Parliament – there was a 170% increase in interception through the RICA system.) As former Minister of State Security, Dr Cwele refused to engage publically with the findings of the 2008 report of the Matthews Commission into abuses of power and privacy in state-security structures, helping to bury the report on a technicality and allowing government officials and Parliamentarians to refuse to even acknowledge the report’s findings.
Read Right2Know’s statement in its entirety here. And be very, very afraid.[Image – CC 3.0 By NC ND Deleket]