3 new bills are a step closer to becoming law – including rules around WhatsApp and online messages

Parliament’s Select Committee on Security and Justice has adopted the Cybercrimes Bill and other key pieces of legislation.

The Cybercrimes and Cybersecurity Bill focuses on criminalising the theft and interference of data and bringing South Africa’s cyber security laws in line with the rest of the world.

This includes criminalising the distribution of harmful data messages, imposing obligations to report cyber crime, and creating offences which have a bearing on cyber crime

Concerns have previously been raised about the ‘vagueness’ of these messaging rules, especially because of the steep consequences attached to them.

Notably, a previous version of the bill stated that any person who contravenes one of the provisions is liable on conviction to a fine or to imprisonment for a period not exceeding three years, or to both a fine and imprisonment.

These provisions include:

  • A message which incites damage to property or violence;
  • A message which threatens persons with damage to property or violence;
  • A message which unlawfully contains an intimate image.

The committee indicated that it has subsequently approved amendments to the bill to address some of these concerns.

“The proposed amendments agreed to by the committee includes altering the tone of the Bill to reflect non-binary language, as required by considerations of gender-neutrality, equality, dignity and identity and the restructuring of clause 16 to specifically reflect the impact of the considerations in criminalising the disclosure of data messages of intimate images,” it said.

Committee chairperson Shahidabibi Shaikh said all the concerns raised by the committee were addressed by the department and the parliamentary legal advisor in the Bill.

The chairperson also highlighted the fact that this bill, once enacted, will be the first non-binary legislation to be passed in South Africa.


Civil unions

The committee also agreed to the Civil Union Amendment Bill.

The aim of the Bill is to repeal section 6 of the Civil Union Act, which allows a marriage officer to inform the minister that he or she objects on the ground of conscience, religion, and belief to solemnising a civil union between persons of the same sex.

It is important to note that the marriage officers referred to in the Bill are public servants employed by the Department of Home Affairs, the committee said.


Firearms amnesty

The committee further considered and adopted the notice of declaration of amnesty in terms of the Firearms Control Act. This follows a request from the South African Police Service (SAPS) for a new six months’ firearms amnesty, commencing from August this year.

The committee resolved to agree to the new amnesty, but categorically stated that the Saps should provide more communication to the public regarding amnesty.

The committee heard that granting another amnesty period will afford the communities another opportunity to surrender illegal and unwanted firearms and/or ammunition, in an effort to curb the proliferation of illegal firearms in circulation.

Shaikh said the reports, which were adopted by the majority of members, on these matters will now be sent to the National Council of Provinces with the recommendation for adoption.


Read: Government wants to make language changes at South Africa’s schools – including matric exams

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3 new bills are a step closer to becoming law – including rules around WhatsApp and online messages