The State Security Agency (SSA) should not have control over cyber security, the Right2Know (R2K) Campaign said in Parliament on Tuesday.
R2K was among several organisations that made submissions to the portfolio committee on justice and correctional services on the Cybercrime and Cybersecurity Bill.
"In its current form it will potentially censor freedom of speech," said R2K's Karabo Rajuili.
The group is also concerned that corporates and the State could infringe on internet freedom and asked for much stronger safeguards in the bill to keep the State at bay.
Rajuili also said a clause dealing with fake news should be removed from the bill as it could be open to abuse.
"It can give the state the power to control the truth," she said.
Murray Hunter, also of R2K, said the bill gave too much power to the SSA to manage cybersecurity.
He said the problem was that it was the nature of an intelligence agency to view things in terms of threats.
"The internet is so much more than threats," he said.
Hiding behind 'rights'
African National Congress (ANC) MP Loyiso Mpumlwana complained about "liberalism".
"This liberal view, I don't know what you are... who you are protecting," he said, adding that he was not happy with the freedom currently enjoyed by users of the internet.
He said there were "agents inside the country that want to destabilise it".
The committee's chairperson, Mathole Motshekga, said: "When the government comes in, people hide behind rights."
He thanked R2K for its presentation and said it highlighted the need for a broader discussion.
Lizzie Harrison of the Digital Law Company said the organisation was happy that the bill would address revenge porn.
The Centre for Human Rights and Freedom of Religion South Africa both expressed concerns about the bill's effect on freedom of speech.
"There are forces in the world trying to create a permissive society for the destruction of the world," said Motshekga after the Centre for Human Rights' presentation.
ANC MP Bongani Bongo said the Centre for Human Rights' presenters shouldn't receive the same protection (regarding questions asked and interruptions from MPs) as other presenters because the centre had "funded a case against the NPA". He was referring to DA MP Glynnis Breytenbach's case against the National Prosecuting Authority.
Breytenbach responded: "Honourable Bongo, if I thought you were capable of thought, I would be concerned."
The public hearings will continue on Thursday.