Information bill makes new rules for state documents

The Protection of Information Bill aims to introduce a “coherent approach” to the protection of state information and its classification and declassification, a memorandum states.

The bill would create the legislative framework for the state to respond to espionage and associated hostile activities.

Classified information will fall into three classes — confidential, secret and top secret.

“Valuable” information may be protected against alteration, destruction or loss while information categorised as “sensitive”, “commercial” and “personal” may be protected from unauthorised disclosure and may even be classified.

Classified information held for 20 years or more will be declassified unless it is considered necessary for national security or to prevent identifiable damage to the national interest or demonstrable harm to someone. The only grounds for maintaining the classification for longer than 30 years will be that releasing it would cause life-threatening or physical harm to someone.

Heads of organs of state will be obliged to review the status of classified information at least once every 10 years.

All information transferred to or held by the National Archives will be declassified and accessible to the public.

The bill requires that within 12 months of the promulgation of the law, the intelligence minister must introduce national information security standards prescribing the categories of information that may be protected or classified.

Organs of state would be required to establish departmental policies and procedures consistent with national standards within 18 months. The National Intelligence Agency will be responsible for developing, co-ordinating and facilitating the implementation of national policies across all organs of state except the South African Police Service and the South African National Defence Force.

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Information bill makes new rules for state documents