Leader of the Opposition Philip ‘Brave’ Davis. Photo: Terrel W. Carey/Tribune Staff
By RASHAD ROLLE
Tribune Staff Reporter
A LITTLE more than a year after the Free National Movement used the Interception of Communication Bill as a weapon against the Progressive Liberal Party in their general election campaign, governing party members touted their version of the bill in Parliament yesterday, drawing derision from the opposition.
PLP MPs laughed when National Security Minister Marvin Dames said people should stop calling the bill a “Spy Bill,” a characterisation the FNM embraced last year.
Opposition leader Philip “Brave” Davis said the party will not vote for the bill in its current form.
Unlike the original bill tabled in early 2017, he said, the current bill contains provisions from the Listening Devices Act, the controversial 1972 law the PLP wanted to replace and rectify by its interception bill.
In the lead-up to the election, the FNM said the bill tabled by the Christie administration was “dangerous” and would be used by the PLP for political reasons. Yesterday Mr Davis said: “The very thing they complained about then is the very thing they have introduced into this bill. Our bill responded specifically to the criticisms that were levelled against the Listening Devices Act by the Privy Council... Their concern was that the right to intrude in a person’s private business ought not to be in the hands of politicians. We responded to that. Our bill took it out of the hands of politicians and rested it in the hands of judges…”
Pointing to part six of the bill, which incorporates all provisions of the Listening Devices Act, Mr Davis said: “Their bill is regressive because it still remains in the hands of the politicians to intercept communications for any offence.”
The provisions of the LDA empowers the minister of national security to allow authorised people to use a listening device for no more than 30 days. The provisions also involve the attorney general in the authorisation of a listening device, mandating that she or he consult with the commissioner of police before a communication can be intercepted.
Such involvement of politicians, Mr Davis argued, goes against the intent of the original bill drafted by the Christie administration which sought to remove this power and put the Supreme Court in charge of authorising interceptions of communication.
“I have always been challenged about this fact about politicians being involved in deciding on intercepting of communications,” Mr Davis said.
“I cannot in this dispensation at this time in a 2018 Bahamas agree and to vote for a bill that would allow politicians to listen on communications by our private citizens. I accept that the introduction of our bill, the timing of it may have caused a lot of anxiety because it was in the height of the election season, but suffice it to say that our objective and purpose in introducing the bill was to upgrade and modernise the then 45-year-old Listening Devices Act passed in 1972. It was to allow the police under the authority of the courts, not politicians, to intercept the planning and execution of serious crime.”
Addressing his party’s about-face on the bill, Transport and Aviation Minister Frankie Campbell, a former police officer, said FNMs were concerned with the timing of the original bill’s tabling - ahead of a general election - and what that may have meant for its potential use.
“I would not have been in this place when the bill was introduced by those on side opposite but as a concerned citizen I would have followed, I would have listened to much of the commentary and I too would have had some concern about the bill but not necessarily the contents of the bill,” he said.
“I would have been concerned with the timing of the bill. Having had five years (in office) and then to be threatened by a fiery hot opposition and then all of a sudden you decide you want to bring something like this, mindful that we were in that time in an environment where the country would have continuously begged for five years for an explanation about this NIA (National Intelligence Agency), their remit, their purpose, etc, and then to have this brought in on the tail end, mindful the then opposition was hot on their heels, mindful that the person who was alleged to be in charge of this NIA was being rumoured to become a candidate; We would’ve been concerned that if this were allowed to happen at that particular time there was no guarantee human nature being what it is, that the alleged leader of the NIA, a potential candidate, would not have used that position to disadvantage the then opposition now government.”
Former Royal Bahamas Defence Force Commodore Clifford “Butch” Scavella was reported to be the director of the NIA. He ran unsuccessfully in the Central & South Eleuthera constituency last year for the PLP.
The bill now passes to committee.