THIS latest attempt by government to strip Bahamians of all privacy is proof that these legislators must indeed take all Bahamians for fools.
Remember what dear old Abe Lincoln said: “You can fool all the people some of the time and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.”
By now we hope that most Bahamians are not as gullible as they used to be.
Imagine trying to push a Bill through parliament to create a “single legal framework” to allow the Police Commissioner to obtain a warrant from a judge to examine all your private information received from telecommunications, internet providers and postal services for a period of three months.
The proposed legislation provides for the “interception of all communication networks regardless of whether they are licensed as public or not”.
And this so soon after Justice Indra Charles ruled that MP Jerome Fitzgerald’s right when he tabled in the House of Assembly the private e-mails, including financial statements of the environmental group, Save the Bays, could not be protected by parliamentary privilege. Mr Fitzgerald has appealed this ruling. However, if this proposed Bill passes the House, Mr Fitzgerald would have had every right to do what he did, provided he had first petitioned the Attorney General to make an “ex parte” application to a judge in chambers for permission to do so.
If this Bill passes, no one will have any privacy in the future, particularly in a citizen’s business operations. It would sound the death knell for private investment, the secrecy of which has already been brought into question by the Fitzgerald performance in the House of Assembly last year.
But don’t you trust your government? one might ask. The blunt answer is no. Over the years – with the exception of a few in the judiciary — government has not inspired confidence. The community is too small for this kind of legislation – and vendettas run deep.
The 10-page Listening Devices Act was introduced in 1972 to give the National Security Minister – where satisfied that national security was being threatened or an offence had been committed or was about to be committed — permission in writing to use a listening device to gather evidence. The permission was to last 30 days. Permission could also be given to police officers by the Commissioner of Police after consultation with the Attorney General.
There were offences against the 1972 Act, should, for example a person advertise or publicly exhibit the contents of the listening device for sale. There were other prohibitions. The consequence for breaches was a fine not exceeding $2,000 or imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months or both fine and imprisonment.
Sometime in 1982, a Bahamian businessman brought in a security firm to check the security of his telephones and that of several of his friends. One day, he telephoned us to find out if we would be interested in using their services to check the safety of The Tribune’s phones. We accepted. The editor’s phone failed all tests. We were being tapped, and yet, to our knowledge no one had officially applied to the attorney general for permission to do so. Nor were we aware of anything that should attract such eavesdropping - unless, of course, it was political.
Fairly recently when upgrading our infrastructure to take advantage of new technologies, The Tribune engaged one of the top five global security firms to instal a multi-layered state of the art system, which could deal with the many threats facing media companies.
One day the experts were working our system when they noticed activity. They laid a trap, and like any good bee our attacker went straight for the honey. He was followed by our experts. As a result we know his exact location, down to the very building and street from which he was doing his clandestine business. All we are prepared to say is that his country is located on the Pacific side of the world. The comment of one of the experts supervising our system was that for a media company our size it was highly “unusual to have such a concerted and focused attack as was discovered”.
Our operations are daily monitored by this company and we receive reports of any untoward activity immediately. Many of our e-mails, including local ones, are sent to SPAM, which is a warning that they might contain a virus, which, if opened, would contaminate our system. We also get a regular Spam Quarantine report.
We are satisfied that our technology is sufficiently sophisticated that our experts would quickly detect a local hack and ferret him out.
However, this is one piece of legislation in the hands of the Bahamas government that should be rejected outright because — like it or not — in the wrong political hands it could be abused.
Fred Smith, QC, one of the lawyers in the Save the Bays case against MP Fitzgerald has said that “if we were to create an independent Department of Public Prosecutions, an independent office of Attorney General, then you could start talking about legislation to help protect national security. But this spying act can be used by the government of the day to go into the emails, telephone calls secretly of opposition candidates, every journalist, it takes away client-attorney privilege. This means there will be no more banking privacy.”
Unfortunately, there are claims that political interference has not only infiltrated our police force, but there are also suggestions that some sections of our judicial system has also been contaminated.
If so, Government’s proposed legislation does not bode well for such a contaminated political atmosphere.