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Legality of Parly signal blocker questioned

Baleka Mbete confirmed that the jammer belonged to the NIA, but said the media were not the target.

FILE: Screengrab from the 'bring back the signal' chant by the media in Parliament during State of the Nation Address 2015. Picture: EWN.

CAPE TOWN - The constitutionality of a signal jammer being used in the National Assembly during the State of the Nation Address (Sona) has been questioned with the State Security Agency being asked to clarify which law empowers it to use the device.

National Assembly Speaker Baleka Mbete on Tuesday confirmed that the jammer belonged to the National Intelligence Agency (NIA) but said that the media were not the target.

Before the president's address last Thursday, cellphone coverage dropped in Parliament and those in the public gallery, many of whom were journalists, could not access WiFi.

Journalists started chanting 'bring back the signal' when they realised they couldn't send any information out from their devices.

Watch: 'Bring back the signal' . Ahead of the Sona, MPs demanded that cellphone signal be restored.

Security expert Laurie Nathan says the legality of what the NIA did is questionable.

"If there was a law that permitted the security services to drown under specified circumstances then we want to hear that comment. In other words we are asking a question what is the legal basis for infringing on Constitutional rights."

Several organisations including Primedia Broadcasting, Media 24 and other media houses brought an urgent application to the Western Cape High Court on Tuesday to prohibit the use of mobile network blocking devices in the National Assembly in the future.

The court postponed the application to next Thursday.

The document submitted by media houses described the use of signal jamming devices as "unlawful" and, in some circumstances during an open sitting of Parliament, "unconstitutional".

Earlier, the Open Democracy Advice Centre told Eyewitness News that it wants to know exactly who ordered the use of cellphone jamming devices in Parliament.

The centre's Alison Tilley said, "We are really going to be looking to the State Security Agency to answer some of these questions that have come up, if Parliament didn't know that the jammers were going to be there, then who did know and why."

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