Govt. admits it has been wiretapping
…no requests made to GT&T, Digicel
The Government of Guyana, through its Minister of Home Affairs Clement Rohee, yesterday admitted to the use of wiretapping, utilising the controversial Interception of Communication legislation.
To date, none of the alleged recordings made from lawful wiretapping have been tendered in the court to be used as evidence against anyone.
Rohee made the disclosure as he was giving People’s Progressive Party Civic campaign updates at Freedom House and said that the administration has been making progress with respect to the use anti-crime legislation, which he said the political opposition did not support in the House.
Rohee made specific reference to the wiretapping legislation, the plea bargaining legislation and the use of paper committals, which bypass the use of a Preliminary Inquiry in the Magistrates’ Court.
The Minister did concede that the legislation was not being used extensively, but that there has been relative success.
“In areas where we scored I would say reasonable success is the plea bargaining legislation.”
He said too that they have experienced success in what is called, “eavesdropping… yes, the wiretapping.”
Speaking to the successes of the pieces of legislation mentioned, Rohee said that he could not pronounce on how extensive they have been used, adding that, “it depends on the nature of the case and the individuals involved.”
The Interception of Communication Bill, commonly called the ‘’Wiretapping Bill’ was not unanimously approved in the National Assembly and was subsequently assented to by the president, putting a strain on the telephone companies, namely the Guyana Telephone and Telegraph Company and Digicel, to expend some US$1M each or face possible sanctions should a request be made and they are unable to comply.
According to the legislation: “If a judge issuing a warrant under this Act is satisfied that the operation of a public or private telecommunications system has failed to comply with the warrant for want of any support services for the transmission, switching equipment or any other technical facility or requirement, he may direct that the owner, operator or licensee of the telecommunications system shall, at his own cost, forthwith provide the required support service, install necessary switching equipment, or provide the technical facility or requirement, as the case may be, for complying with the warrant to the satisfaction of the court; and the compliance with this subsection shall be deemed to be a condition in the licence granted for the operation of the telecommunication system.”
The legislation, which was debated for hours on end in the House, was condemned by the opposition as “suspicious and unconstitutional”.
Rohee who piloted the Bill, had at the time of the debate said that there was no need for paranoid concerns, given that the legislation was laden with safeguard clauses.
The legislation gives the power to the Commissioner of Police, the Chief of Staff of the Guyana Defence Force, and the Commissioner General of the Guyana Revenue Authority, to apply to a judge to direct the technical officers at the telecommunication companies to intercept the communication of a person without his/her knowledge.
In an emergency, and in instances where deemed a matter of national security, the authorities can move to have a warrant sought for by the Minister of Home Affairs, after which he will have 72 hours to present the application.
There is also a clause in the legislation that allows for a designated officer to order a wiretap in instances deemed emergency, where it is impracticable to reach a judge.
Meanwhile, a senior official at Digicel Guyana told this publication that to date the company has undertaken no such wiretapping requests.
The official did point out that should such a request be made the company is in compliance with the necessary legislation and can undertake such a request.
Senior officials at the Guyana Telephone and Telegraph Company have stated that they are unaware of any such requests made by the administration to conduct wiretapping.
Like the Digicel representative, the GT&T official said that should such a request be made the company would be in a position to facilitate it.