Head of the Presidential Secretariat, Dr Roger Luncheon, recently said that the negotiations with Digicel and the Guyana Telephone and Telegraph Company in the implementation of “lawful intercept law is robust and is progressing to the satisfaction of both parties.”
Dr Luncheon was referring to the negotiations relating to the assistance that the Guyana Government has committed to provide to the two companies in order to purchase the equipment necessary to intercept and record telephone conversations.
It will cost some US$1M for GT&T to purchase the equipment to realise the interception and storage of communication from mobile phones.
This is according to a senior official at the company who revealed that the equipment has still not been purchased.
The official added that to date there has been no tangible support from the government to ensure that it can be purchased and installed, but emphasised that there has been a sincere commitment to assist.
The fact that the companies (GT&T and Digicel) have to foot the bill to ensure compliance with the Interception of Communication Bill, commonly called the ‘’Wiretapping Bill’, had prompted Opposition Leader Robert Corbin to urge the companies to take legal action against the government.
Corbin was at the time responding to statements by Dr Luncheon that the onus is on the telephone companies to foot the bill in order to ensure compliance.
As it is, the two companies say that they are not capable at present of complying with the legislation that was recently passed in the National Assembly.
During a recent interview with this newspaper, a senior GT&T official had also expressed surprise at the pace at which the legislation was passed through the National Assembly, explaining that were the President to assent to the Bill today and it were to be published in the Gazette the following day (thereby making it law), should a warrant be issued to tap a phone, the company could not adhere to the law.
If the company did not promptly adhere to the law, it would be in violation of the Act and be liable to a fine not exceeding $1M and other punitive actions.
According to the legislation that was passed: “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.”
A senior Digicel official, who spoke on the basis of anonymity, had also said that his company, at present, was also incapable of intercepting mobile calls, or storing and retrieving the audio information at a later date.
The official had emphasised, however, that the company was engaged in negotiations with the Office of the President concerning, inter alia, the financial burden that would be placed on the company to comply with the law, hence would not respond to Dr Luncheon via the media.
The controversial Interception of the Communication Bill that effectively legalises what is commonly referred to as wiretapping was passed in the National Assembly despite staunch opposition.
The legislation, which was debated for hours on end in the House, was condemned by the opposition as suspicious and unconstitutional.
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