Speaker, hon members, the first thing I was told to say in this debate is that this Bill has nothing to do with the Protection of State Information Bill. It is a different Bill. It deals with the privacy of personal information.
This Bill was introduced in Parliament in 2009 and went to the National Assembly. It is by far the oldest Bill in Parliament. As the Minister said, it owes its origin to a report of the Ad Hoc Committee on the Open Democracy Bill, which was passed as the Promotion of Access Information Act, commonly known as Paia. That report was adopted by this House in early 2000.
The original Open Democracy Bill that had been introduced had some sections dealing with personal information. The ad hoc committee dealing with the Bill had felt that those would be better placed in separate legislation. As the Minister reported, it requested the then Minister to introduce privacy and data protection legislation, after thorough research. The ad hoc committee also noted that when that privacy and data protection legislation is passed, it may be necessary for the Promotion of Access to Information Act to be amended in accordance with the data protection legislation.
The Bill was then introduced after a thorough investigation by the SA Law Reform Commission. I must say that it is not an easy piece of legislation. In my 13 years in this House, I think it is the most complicated piece of legislation that I have been involved in.
As members would have seen, the Bill - it is being distributed now - has 115 sections and then an additional 20 pages of schedule, which are mainly amendments to the Promotion of Access to Information Act, but also to some other pieces of legislation. So, it is a very complicated piece of legislation. It deals with the rights of personal privacy and, obviously, balancing those rights against the rights of freedom of expression.
The reason the Bill has taken so long is because of this complexity and the enormous amount of work that had to go into it. We were on the ninth draft of the Bill before we produced the B version which is currently before the House. We had public hearings. There were some 36 submissions, oral and written. The portfolio committee conducted a study trip to the United Kingdom, sponsored by the Open Democracy Advice Centre, to meet with the United Kingdom Information Commissioner and other experts.
As the Minister said, a technical committee was established to consider most of the issues. Then the Bill was referred back to the full committee, which also deliberated on the Bill in a number of meetings. I haven't tried to work out the exact number of meetings that were conducted in total or the number of hours that we sat, but it was extensive.
More than 50 countries in the world, including six on the African continent - Angola, Benin, Burkina Faso, Mauritius, Morocco and Senegal - already have legislation dealing with the protection of personal information. Some have had it for some time. In the European Union, where members have had such legislation in effect for some time, a revision has been taking place. This resulted in an EU draft regulation that will be applicable to all countries in the EU.
In dealing with the Bill before us, particularly over the time that we have had it, we have been able to learn from other countries' experiences and have effected amendments to the Bill currently before the House; amendments to make the Bill more practical and more effective.
We have engaged with and been assisted by numerous stakeholders, and we had to grapple with a range of issues, including those that ensured that the Bill did not unduly restrict journalists. In this regard, we had a couple of meetings with the SA National Editors' Forum. We had to ensure that the Bill did not unduly restrict bloggers or so-called citizen journalists, law enforcement agencies, children on Mxit, and literary or artistic expression.
The Bill has often been misunderstood as creating a range of crimes for the wrongful processing of personal information. This is not the case. What the Bill does is to establish a set of conditions for the processing of personal information. These include both general conditions and more detailed conditions for the processing of special personal information such as religious or philosophical beliefs, race and ethnic origins and political persuasion, to name a few.
The Bill then establishes an independent Information Regulator to regulate the implementation of the law. This implementation includes not only education and research, but also monitoring and enforcing compliance and handling complaints. Sectors are encouraged to regulate themselves by drawing up codes of conduct for the processing of personal information that must be approved by the regulator. For example, we have granted exemption to journalists, subject to a code that sufficiently covers the relevant issues. The media is then left to regulate itself, subject to that code. With a few exceptions, crimes are only committed when a party does not abide by an enforcement notice issued by the regulator. An aggrieved party has the right to take the enforcement notice on appeal to the High Court.
So, basically, the way the Bill works is: These are the conditions; if there is a complaint, you go to the Information Regulator. If the Information Regulator rules against you, you then have to comply. Only if you don't comply or appeal to court and continue to process the information would you be guilty of a crime.
One crime, however, that we did create was the unauthorised processing of bank account numbers. This was in response to a growing problem of bank account numbers being freely available and people being approached to buy products just to find that their bank accounts were debited for goods or services that they had not agreed to, because the people offering those services already had their account numbers. When the Bill becomes a law, that will become a crime. It will not be something to complain to the Information Regulator about.
As this House envisaged back in 2000, the Bill did forsee changes to the Promotion of Access to information Act because the responsibilities for the implementation of the Act were being transferred from the SA Human Rights Commission to the Information Regulator. The committee also took the opportunity to make certain amendments to Paia that had not been achievable, such as the requirement that a hard copy of a Paia manual had to be submitted to the Human Rights Commission - or now the Information Regulator. That will no longer be a requirement. Copies of the manual that is meant to be produced will be kept by the relevant bodies and only submitted on request.
As far as I am aware, this Bill is being supported by all parties on the Justice committee. I would like to thank the members of the technical committee, in particular, for their hard work - hon Smuts and Oriani- Ambrosini. I also want to give special thanks to Mr Henk du Preez of the department and Ms Ananda Louw of the SA Law Reform Commission for their devotion to duty in effecting the amendments that the committee wanted. The nine drafts of the Bill that I was speaking about was their hard work. I also want to thank Mr Sisa Makabela of the State Law Advisers who played an important oversight role in assisting the committee to tackle a number of issues in the Bill. I also want thank Mr Mark Heyink from civil society and Francis Cronj, as well as Alison Tilley from the Open Democracy Advice Centre. Lastly, I want to thank the committee secretary, Mr Vhonaani Rhomono, for the many hours he had to sit, and Miss Christine Silkstone, the content adviser, for the research performed and assistance she gave to the committee.