State may be able to get per­sonal with PCs

Sunday Times - - NEWS -


South Africans risk be­ing spied on by their own gov­ern­ment as strict new leg­is­la­tion — the Cy­ber­crimes and Cy­ber­se­cu­rity Bill — is tabled in par­lia­ment.

Watchdogs are warn­ing that if the bill be­comes law, the gov­ern­ment will be able to ac­cess pri­vate in­for­ma­tion and the cor­re­spon­dence of ordinary cit­i­zens, which will have a chill­ing ef­fect on the con­duct of every­one who owns or uses a com­puter.

The bill is in­tended to fight cy­ber­crime and com­puter-re­lated abuses, but free­dom of ex­pres­sion groups warn that the leg­is­la­tion’s pow­ers go be­yond this.

Mur­ray Hunter of civil rights watch­dog Right2Know said there was a risk, for in­stance, that state se­cu­rity struc­tures could use these pow­ers to gain ac­cess to pri­vate net­works. The State Se­cu­rity Agency could de­clare that ser­vice providers were a crit­i­cal in­for­ma­tion in­fra­struc­ture, thereby ac­cess­ing pri­vate cit­i­zens’ data. This would save it the trou­ble of ob­tain­ing a court or­der to ac­cess spe­cific in­di­vid­u­als’ data.

The leg­is­la­tion, if passed, will be ap­pli­ca­ble to all ac­tions in South Africa and by South African cit­i­zens world­wide, and by any­one trav­el­ling to or from South Africa, and on all ships and planes reg­is­tered in the coun­try.

Right2Know’s spokes­woman Karabo Ra­juili said the bill threat­ened in­ter­net free­dom. “We re­ject pro­vi­sions that will hand over fur­ther pow­ers to state se­cu­rity struc­tures to put them­selves in con­trol of in­ter­net gov­er­nance in South Africa. These pro­vi­sions will make the in­ter­net less se­cure.”

Ra­juili said ev­i­dence of gov­ern­ment sur­veil­lance abuse was pil­ing up — in­clud­ing proof that the gov­ern­ment has spent mil­lions of rands on soft­ware that al­lows users to hack dig­i­tal de­vices and spy on the user’s every move.

“Most re­cently, this has been linked to the al­leged hack­ing of per­sonal e-mails of Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa.

“How­ever, these pow­ers re­main un­reg­u­lated in the cy­ber­crimes bill,” she said.

In­stead, the pro­posed leg­is­la­tion makes it a crime, pun­ish­able by up to five years in prison, to un­law­fully and in­ten­tion­ally se­cure ac­cess to al­ter, mod­ify, delete, copy, ob­tain out­put data or any other used data, or to se­cure ac­cess to a com­puter pro­gram to per­form any func­tion or store any­thing which has not been au­tho­rised by the owner of the ma­te­rial.

Any­one who over­comes pro­tec­tion mea­sures to ac­quire data, or know­ingly pos­sesses data that was ac­quired il­le­gally, faces up to 10 years in jail — and any­one who pos­sesses data be­lieved to have been ac­quired il­le­gally, and can­not ex­plain how they ac­quired it, can be im­pris­oned for five years.

The bill cre­ates the crimes of cy­ber­forgery and cy­berex­tor­tion.

It also crim­i­nalises com­puter-based re­venge porn (dis­tribut­ing in­ti­mate im­ages with­out spe­cific con­sent), and in­cite­ment to prop­erty or psy­cho­log­i­cal dam­age, each pun­ish­able by up to three years in jail.

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