Article by Dario Milo and Avani Singh

Previously published in City Press

In the midst of ongoing speculation over what will come of the next round of deliberations on the Protection of State Information Bill, let us assume momentarily that the bill – despite its fatal flaws – is passed in its current form.

The bill is currently before the ad hoc committee of the National Council of Provinces (NCOP).

This means that a document containing state information deemed to warrant classification may be classified as confidential, secret or top-secret, which then triggers a number of possible criminal offences – 14 in total – against a person who comes into contact with this classified document.

This will inevitably cut down democratic deliberation by whistleblowers, journalists, editors and community organisations, but most fundamentally it will affect the public's right to know.

In the absence of both a public interest and a public domain defence, an invidious choice will have to be made between opting not to publish a story or publishing it withthe risk of facing harsh criminal sanctions.

In this regard, it matters not whether the document has been wrongly classified – whether as a result of the classifier's inadvertent, negligent or intentional conduct.

The mere possession and disclosure of it gives rise to criminal liability.

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