South Africa’s 3 new proposed ‘censorship’ laws you need to know about

 ·9 Mar 2017
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South Africans have lashed out on social media after Safety and Security Minister David Mahlobo announced on Monday 6 March that government was contemplating new regulations to better regulate social media in South Africa.

While Mahlobo emphasised the regulations would be used to combat security threats and fake news in the country, citizens took to Facebook and Twitter using #HandsOffSocialMedia to express their concerns that the proposed laws would be used by government as a form of censorship.

As at the time of writing, Mahlobo is yet to formally introduce any of his proposed regulations – however, government has already introduced a number of proposed ‘censorship’ laws for parliamentary consideration since the start of 2017.

BusinessTech looked at the incoming laws you need to know about before hitting send on WhatsApp, Twitter, Snapchat, Facebook or other social media platforms in South Africa.

Film and Publications Amendment Bill

The Film and Publications Amendment Bill intends to regulate content posted to private communications services, such as WhatsApp according to a parliamentary presentation on 7 March 2017.

This would mean that  government would be able to restrict your social media messages based on the content they contain, even if they were sent in private.

In an earlier parliamentary session the board also confirmed that the new Amendment Bill would be looking at broader internet censorship which would include the limiting of access to pornography and other restricted materials through search engines such as Google in South Africa.

The Cybercrime and Cybersecurity Bill

The Cybercrime and Cybersecurity Bill which is currently being discussed in parliament, has been introduced to bring South Africa in line with other countries’ cyberlaws, as well as meet the ever-growing threat of cyber crime.

While the majority of the Bill focuses on criminalising the theft and interference of data, it has also introduced new laws surrounding any ‘malicious’ electronic communication.

Your message could result in jail time of up to 3 years and/or a fine if:

  • It incites the causing of any damage to any property belonging to, or violence against, a person or a group of persons;
  • It intimidates, encourages or harasses a person to harm himself or herself or any other person;
  • It is inherently false in nature and it is aimed at causing mental, psychological, physical or economic harm to a specific person or a group of persons;
  • It is intimate in nature (aka nudity), and is distributed without the consent of the person involved.

In addition, the Bill compels all banking institutions, ISPs and cellular companies to assist in an investigation – allowing the government to access any pertinent private information stored on you as evidence.

Prevention and Combating of Hate Crimes and Hate Speech Bill 

The Free Market Foundation (FMF) and other analysts have warned that petty insults could be turned into crimes punishable by jail time under government’s proposed Hate Speech Bill.

“The Constitution allows for the protection of only four specified characteristics – race, ethnicity, religion, gender – but the bill protects seventeen characteristics, including ‘culture’, ‘belief’, ‘occupation’, and ‘gender identity’.

“Protecting characteristics such as ‘belief’ and ‘occupation’ from ‘insults’ will have perverted effects, whereby South Africans will be jailed for having opinions which are allowable in every other democratic society in the world.”

As a result, saying something as harmless as ‘All politicians are thieving liars‘ or ‘All lawyers are blood-sucking parasites‘ will now be considered hate speech in terms of the new bill, notes the foundation.

“The Hate Speech Bill, if passed unamended (especially without the inclusion of generous defences), will have a profound effect on our constitutional democracy. South Africa will become one of the few countries in the world where freedom of expression is regulated to this draconian extent.”

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