JOHANNESBURG, Nov 22 (Reuters) - South Africa’s parliament passed legislation on Tuesday aimed at better protecting state secrets but the measure has been widely criticised for provisions that could help the government hide corruption.
The following are a few major provisions contained in the legislation known as “The Protection of Information Bill”:
* The bill is aimed at ensuring “a coherent approach to protection of state information and the classification and declassification of state information and will create a legislative framework for the state to respond to espionage and other associated hostile activities”.
* Foreign spies are required to register their status as agents with the government or face between three to five years in prison.
* The measure applies to all organs of the state, including municipalities, with the state security minister deciding what is a part of the government.
* The measure applies to all information regarded as “valuable” to the state. The state security minister within 12 months of the commencement of the act can prescribe categories of information that are valuable and subject to protection.
* State agencies will set up procedures for managing sensitive information.
* Sensitive information includes matters “relating to the protection and preservation of all things owned or maintained for the public by the state”, state security, economic growth, scientific achievements and diplomacy.
* Any head of an organ of state may classify or reclassify information. The State Security Ministry is the gate keeper for the classification.
* Unauthorised possession of classified material is a criminal act.
* Material remains classified for no longer than 20 years, unless the state provised a compelling reason to keep it secret.
* The branch that classifies information can decide whether to grant requests for declassification.
* The unlawful delivery and distribution of “top secret” material can be punished by 15 to 25 years in jail.
* The unlawful delivery and distribution of “classified” material carries a three to five prison term.
* Computer hacking of state records is a criminal offence punishable by five to 10 years in jail.
* Any person who publishes or discloses state secrets faces up to 10 years in prison and those conspiring with that person also face jail terms.
* Any government official who classifies information not considered as being valuable to the state faces up to three years in jail. (Reporting by Jon Herskovitz)