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Spying carried out under Panday Govt
Illegal spying was carried out under former prime minister Basdeo Panday’s United National Congress government. This was revealed in the first annual report on the Interception of Communications Act 2010, which was laid in Parliament yesterday by leader of government business, Housing and the Environment Minister Dr Roodal Moonilal.
The legislation was approved in Parliament months after the People’s Partnership assumed office in 2010. It followed Persad-Bissessar’s revelation in Parliament that the Security Intelligence Agency (SIA) had illegally tapped citizens’ telephones under the former Patrick Manning government.
With the support of the Opposition People’s National Movement, led by Dr Keith Rowley, the legislation providing for phone-tapping under certain conditions was approved with unanimous support. One requirement of the law was that an annual report be laid in Parliament.
The 17-page report, which was prepared and presented by National Security Minister Brigadier John Sandy, said the “interception of communications is amongst the range of investigative techniques used by intelligence and law-enforcement agencies to protect the State from threats of subversion, espionage, sabotage and terrorists acts.”
The document said the intelligence and evidence gathered are powerful tools for safeguarding a state’s economic well-being, as well as detecting, solving and prosecuting serious crimes. The report stated: “This electronic form of intelligence was conducted for almost a decade—by two successive governments—without legislative underpinning.”
It noted that the first year of the legislation was carried out as a preliminary phase. It said with effect from this year, there was likely to be “a greater use of this intelligence and evidentiary mechanism.” During the first year of the legislation, no applications were made to the court for a warrant to conduct interceptions for evidentiary purposes and “as a consequence, no prosecutions were initiated based on judicial warrants.”
The report added: “During the period under review, no prosecutions were initiated for breach of the act.” For the period under review, the Director of the Strategic Services Agency authorised 267 interceptions. The Commissioner of Police and the Chief of Defence Staff carried out none. A breakdown of the interceptions are:
• Human trafficking—2
• Serious crime—24
• Arms and ammunition—3
State of emergency—87
The report said there were 20 arrests/detentions for counter-narcotics—with seizures of 59 kilos of cocaine and 70 kilos of marijuana; 17 arrests/detentions of counter-terrorism and 15 arrests/detentions for serious crime, with the seizure of US$19,000 and £10,000. The report said there was one pending extradition to the United Kingdom for trafficking of narcotics.
The report said the SSA was facing various challenges to the optimal use of the act. They included “legislative boundaries (and) ambiguities in interpretations and limited co-operation from a named telecommunication-service provider.” It said authorised officers were working with the National Security Ministry to identify the legislative changes needed.
The report said the implementation of the act to date had been restricted in scope, but authorised officers will move to enforce it fully. The report also said intelligence-gathering via interception was “vital,” as the information gathered would be converted into “useful security intelligence and evidence.”
The report also claimed: “We are confident that if the act is managed in accordance with the rule of the law, we can prevent, respond to and recover from all threats and hazards that may impact the security of Trinidad and Tobago.”
The former prime minister said he was not aware of any phone-tapping carried out under his UNC administration. He said he left those matters for the security agencies. He said if it was in fact carried out it would have been done in the interest of national security.
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