Major changes to the controversial Interception of Communications Bill 2010 have been accepted by both Government and Opposition members. Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar had noted although the Government had the required constitutional majority to approve the Bill on its own, it was too important a matter to be approved without the support of the People's National Movement led by Dr Keith Rowley.
The Bill would allow for continuous monitoring of hot spots, international drug trafficking, gang leaders, terrorism, sedition and kidnapping. Unauthorised interception of communication will carry a $500,000 fine plus a seven-year jail term, said Opposition Chief Whip Marlene Mc Donald.Bi partisan Chairman of the Informal Parliamentary Committee Roodal Moonilal said Friday was "an historic day" in T&T's Parliament. Moonilal is also the Minister of Housing and the Environment.
He was referring to the move by all 35 Government and Opposition MPs present in the House– Former prime minister, Patrick Manning was noticeably absent–who voted with one voice to approve the controversial Bill. The legislation sought to strengthen the right balance between the enshrined fundamental rights and the need to fight crime and protect national security.
Moonilal said: "It was an historic day. Landmark legislation that was recommended a decade ago was passed within six months of the People's Partnership administration. "It was my privilege to serve as that paved the way for the landmark legislation. I also congratulate the Opposition for the contribution and support on this matter."
Zeroing on the Partnership's input, Moonilal said: "This was one of the most powerful statements by the Government on dealing with crime. By passing this Bill, it is a strong statement of the Government's determination to deal with crime."
Among the major changes were:
�2 The Minister of National Security does not authorise the warrant to intercept. It is done on the knowledge and discretion of the Commissioner of Police Dwayne Gibbs, Chief of Defence Staff Col Maunday and the Director of the Strategic Services (a legally constituted body).
�2 Minister of National Security John Sandy is kept informed of application for warrant but does not veto the application.
�2 There was creation for provision for the destruction of intercepted material.
�2 Providing the police and the military with a window to obtain intelligence by interception of communication without the need for a warrant for serious offences like murder, terrorism, sedition and treason.
�2 Removal of offences that were a strict liability so that persons would have defences available in the event they are accused.
�2 Cleaning up a lot of the technical provisions so they can synchronise with state of the art technological development and jargon.
�2 There was an agreement on the reporting relationship of the minister to the Parliament.