MPs across all parties yesterday expressed serious concern that changes to the Intelligence Services Amendment Bill could allow the interception of domestic telephone calls without the consent of a judge.
At present the Regulation of Interception of Communications Act stipulates that communications of citizens can be intercepted only if a directive to do so is granted by a judge.
The bill under consideration by the ad hoc committee on intelligence legislation will allow the intelligence minister to approve interceptions.
Democratic Alliance MP Paul Swart asked whether, once the National Communications Centre had intercepted an international call to a South African cellphone, the minister would be able to order the number monitored while, if the police did the same thing, judicial approval was needed.
Alvin Khoza of the National Communications Centre explained to the committee that the centre dealt with bulk collections of information by monitoring satellites and airwaves. This is usually done through the use of key words which attract the centre’s attention. Khoza said that once a target had been identified, the information was passed on to the relevant law enforcement agency, which would then apply to a judge for permission to intercept domestic communications on the specific number.
ANC MP Luwellyn Landers said that the draft law before the committee was in a grey area. He said if a call from a South African abroad to a drug dealer in Abuja was intercepted without judicial sanction, there would be serious political and legal problems. His colleague, Ismail Vadi, said that if in the monitoring of international calls that was done without permission, a local call was monitored, it would be illegal.
Another ANC MP, Dennis Bloem, said that at all costs the minister should be kept out of the equation because the incumbent was the political head of the intelligence services.
The committee was told that if in their bulk collections to identify potential international threats to the country, the centre did find domestic communications, these were discarded.