South African authorities have admitted to conducting mass surveillance on all communications. This was revealed in the former State Security Agency Director General Arthur Fraser's affidavit and other documents filed in 2017 during a court case relating to amaBhungane Centre for Investigative Journalism - a South African non-profit investigative journalism organisation.
What is even more eyebrow raising is that the mass surveillance is said to have dated back as far as 2008 as was revealed during the Matthews Commission ministerial enquiry.
In the affidavit, South Africa's State Security Agency stated that "the Signal Intelligence collection process is informed by the National Intelligence Priorities, which include imminent and anticipated threats. It also covers information about organised crime and terrorist related activities. Bulk [surveillance] also deals with areas like food security, water security and illicit financial flows.”
What has also been revealed, as Privacy International reports, the South African government conducted the "bulk interception of Internet traffic by tapping undersea fibre optic cables." Given that there are several such cables on South African shores, it is not yet clear is such mass surveillance was limited to some of the undersea fibre cables or the State Security Agency actually tapped Internet traffic on all of them.
More worrying is that, despite SSA saying the automated information collection was directed at foreign communications that are a threat to the state security of the country, even they admit that it is impossible, without human intervention, to determine whether any communication passing through undersea fibre cables is of foreign origin or not. This in turn means that the SSA has been collecting information and communications of South Africans without the necessary permissions. Such mass surveillance is probably unconstitutional and illegal.
Also worrying is that the SSA has said that such surveillance and data collection is "common practice" globally.
Some time during 2017, amaBhungane initiated legal proceedings after they became aware that the SSA and those related to it had been recording their editor, Sam Sole’s phone communications for a period of at least six months in 2008 during South Africa's ‘Spy Tapes’ era. This then led to further widespread revelations about widespread and indiscriminate surveillance by the SSA.
(We will be following up with more details on this development as more information becomes available and as we get feedback.)
3 September 2019 - Murray Hunter, a South African digital rights activist and researcher, sheds more details on South Africa's mass surveillance dating back to 2008. ArticleShare this via: