Govt. admits agencies wiretapped phone calls
… for security reasons
Government has admitted that its security agencies wiretapped phone calls on a number of occasions. But they were all for security reasons…in pursuit in criminals.
Responding to questions yesterday during his weekly press briefings, Head of the Presidential Secretariat, Roger Luncheon, while not giving details, disclosed that the local courts had given permission after “approaches” have been made to the judge.
Intercepting phone calls or listening in to phone calls is known as wiretapping. Wiretapping legislation, under the ‘Interception of Communication Act’, became effective August 2009.
However, the police, army and the Guyana Revenue Authority (GRA), which have powers to ask a judge to wiretap phones as part of an investigation, just cannot take it upon themselves to do so.
They first have to approach a judge and make a case to justify the need to wiretap.
The judge’s order is then directed to the phone company, be it the Guyana Telephone and Telegraph Company or Digicel Guyana to allow the facility to be used.
Kaieteur News understands that the telephone company would then route the lines to equipment that a special government intelligence-gathering agency has acquired. The intelligence agency has set up shop on Vlissengen Road, behind Castellani House.
Government has insisted that it has not illegally done any wiretapping of the phones of private individuals.
The Interception of Communication Bill was not unanimously approved in the National Assembly when it was piloted through the National Assembly during the last Parliament under former President Bharrat Jagdeo.
The legislation, which was debated for hours on end in the House, was condemned by the opposition as “suspicious and unconstitutional”.
Home Affairs Minister, Clement 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 from 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.