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Is it illegal to take pictures of the Square Kilometer Array?


After much legal wrangling, the South African government released the list of National Key Points to the media today. Previously, the National Key Points argument was used to protect various buildings and institutions from revealing information or being photographed, but the actual list has never been made public.

The SA History Archive (SAHA) and the Right2Know Campaign have been putting pressure on the government to make the list publicly available, but was railroaded by the Minister of Police. The two organisations launched a high court battle, and after the Minister withdrew an application to appeal the high court order, the list became widely available.

While the Union Buildings Presidency, Apollo Transmission Station and Denel Dynamics are on the list, one of the most widely photographed technological marvels is too – the Square Kilometer Array (SKA) in the Northern Cape.

Being officially listed as a National Key Point would make it illegal to take pictures or publish images of the SKA project (or at least its security installations and processes), which is going to cause a rather big headache as the project nears completion in a couple of years.

The ban on photography of National Key Points were strongly invoked when media started to publish pictures of President Jacob Zuma’s Nkandla residence.

After the photography ban received a lot of criticism, the government said it “has no problem with the media publishing pictures of National Key Points, including President Jacob Zuma’s Nkandla residence, as it is part of their daily line of duty. However, zooming into safety and security features of National Key Points is a challenge as it compromises national security.”

The Right2Know campaign previously said that “National key points are protected from being photographed or identified as key points, and are understood to include military installations and services or factories which are considered strategic.”

Naturally, the SAHA was pleased that the list was finally released.

“We’re delighted that SAPS have come to their senses in recognising that, as was well-demonstrated in Justice Sutherland’s judgment, they simply failed to comply with PAIA from the outset so really had nowhere to go with an appeal,” said Catherine Kennedy on behalf of the South African History Archive in a press statement.

“It was simply the type of knee-jerk refusal that has no place in a democracy that purports to be built on openness and democracy.”

While it is still unclear as to the repercussions of photographing the SKA project, the Right2Know Campaign said the public list will minimise the abuse of actual Key Points.

“We maintain that the blanket secrecy over which sites have been declared National Key Points has helped officials and politicians to use and abuse the National Key Points Act to undermine our constitutional rights. The secret implementation of the Act, in which decisions are taken behind closed doors in terms of vague and open-ended regulations, has contributed to a worrying resurgence of secrecy.”

Some of the technology-related buildings and resources classified as National Key Points are:

  • SABC Bhisho
  • Perseus Transmission Station
  • SABC Kimberley Northern Cape
  • Onderstepoort Biological Products
  • OR Tambo International airport
  • SSA Communication Centre
  • Main Telephone Exchange (PPR)
  • CSIR Wind Tunnel
  • Sentech Tower in Brixton
  • City Power Johannesburg
  • Hartebeeshoek Earth Station
  • NECSASA National Space Agency (SANSA)
  • Koeberg Nuclear Power Station

[Source – Mail and Guardian, Image – SKA]

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