On 4 February 2022, the government of Botswana tabled amendments to the Criminal Procedure and Evidence (Controlled Investigations) Bill, currently before the National Assembly, which add a range of privacy safeguards and oversight of police surveillance, interceptions, and seizures under the Bill. A statement by a coalition of media freedom groups gave measured praise for the amendments, after concern that the Bill’s lack of controls for surveillance powers threatened the work of journalists and free expression in Botswana.
The initial version of the Bill, which Botswana’s Minister of Defence, Justice and Security tabled in Parliament on 12 January 2022, was criticised for expanding the government’s powers to intercept communications without a warrant or public oversight under certain conditions.
Press freedom organisations argued that the Bill threatened journalists’ ability to communicate privately with their sources, and create an avenue for authorities to conduct surveillance without oversight. In a joint statement, the Botswana Editors Forum (BEF), the Press Council of Botswana (PCB), and the Botswana chapter of the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA), said that they were “very worried about the direct implications of this law on the work of journalists, trade unionists and other social activists.”
The recent amendments follow interventions by a coalition of organisations working on media freedom in the region, including the BEF, the Press Council of Botswana, MISA Botswana, the Southern African Editors’ Forum (SAEF), the Media Institute of Southern Africa, the Campaign for Free Expression (CFE) and the WAN-IFRA Media Freedom Committee.
The amendments include provisions that:
- Prohibit investigators from intercepting communications without a warrant, where previously the Bill provided for authorities to conduct warrantless interception of a person’s communications for up to 14 days;
- Create a committee, to be headed by a judge, which will give oversight on interception operations and undercover investigations and receive complaints about any misuse of such powers;
- Require the committee to report annually on its work, which the Minister of Defence, Justice and Security must table in Botswana’s National Assembly.
The Bill is now before a parliamentary committee for further deliberation.
- The Criminal Procedure and Evidence (Controlled Investigations) Bill, as tabled on 12 January 2022, is available here.
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