On Monday morning Judge Roland Sutherland found that the Regulation of Interception of Communications and Provision of Communication Information Act (RICA) was inconsistent with the constitution.

The ruling formed part of a matter brought to the court by amaBhungane. In that matter, amaBhungane argued that state security officials had spied on journalist Sam Sole.

The organisation said that RICA both failed to adequately regulate surveillance and monitoring activities. Right2Know and Privacy International joined the matter as friends of the court.

The ruling on Monday then was welcomed by the Legal Resources Centre, Right2Know as well as Privacy International.

“The Right2Know Campaign, Privacy International and the Legal Resources Centre welcome the Gauteng High Court ruling that parts of South Africa’s surveillance law, RICA, are unconstitutional and invalid,” the trio said in a joint statement.

So what will the outcome of this ruling be? The trio of organisations says that the ruling will put an end to secret spying activities.

The ruling will also insures that interception of communication for journalists and lawyers requires express permission as Sutherland wrote in the judgement.

Most importantly, however, is the fact that government has to rework RICA.

“We are elated by today’s judgement found RICA to be inconsistent with the Constitution, with the effect of ordering Parliament to drastically amend RICA within 2 years, to improve the independence and oversight of the ‘RICA judge’ who oversees surveillance requests, and to provide clear procedures for how state officials handle data that they have intercepted,” wrote the organisations.

But the war is not over and this victory over RICA is the first step of many that needs to be taken to protect the rights and privacy of ordinary South Africans.

Right2Know, Privacy International and Legal Resources Centre outline the other steps that need to be taken:

  • The NPA must prosecute all individuals who have been implicated in illegal surveillance over the years. No more delays!
  • The Inspector General of Intelligence must finalise the many investigations of illegal surveillance lodged by members of the public and civil society. No more delays!
  • The state must end the delays in giving full legal protection to ordinary citizens’ privacy: the Protection of Personal Information Act (POPI) must be brought into force. The privacy watchdog, the Information Regulator, must show that it can act to protect against abuse of people’s personal information.

“The struggle against surveillance is crucial to the broader struggle for equality, dignity, and democracy,” the organisations concluded.

Given that Sutherland suspended his ruling of invalidity for two years, government now has time to rework RICA and it best get on that horse. For now though it appears as if you’ll still need to submit your documents to RICA your phone number, but thankfully spying on you will be a little bit harder.

[Image – CC 0 Pixabay]