High Court finds that South Africa’s surveillance act RICA is inconsistent with the Constitution

The South Gauteng High Court has found that parts of the Regulation of Interception of Communications and Provision of Communication-Related Information (RICA) Act are unconstitutional.

In April 2017, media group amaBhungane filed an application in the High Court challenging the constitutionality of the act.

This, after it emerged that journalist Sam Sole’s communications were intercepted while he was reporting on the corruption investigation against former president Jacob Zuma.

In a decision handed down by judge Roland Sutherland on Monday (16 September), the court found that the law was inconsistent with the constitution on a number of points including:

  • The act fails to adequately prescribe the procedure for notifying a person whose information has been intercepted;
  • The act fails to adequately prescribe the proper procedures to be followed  when state officials are examining, copying, sharing and sorting through data  obtained through interceptions;
  • The act fails to adequately address situations where the subject of surveillance is either a practising lawyer or a journalist.

To remedy these issues, the judgement adds a number of new sections to the RICA Act to remedy the above issues.

It also suspended the invalidity of the act for two years to allow for parliament to bring the legislation in line with the constitution.

Civil society group Right2Know said the judgement means that bulk surveillance activities are now unlawful and invalid in South Africa.

“We congratulate amaBhungane and the legal team and we are happy that this will bring an end to surveillance abuses,” it said.


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High Court finds that South Africa’s surveillance act RICA is inconsistent with the Constitution