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Fred Smith condemns bill allowing police to intercept communications

Fred Smith

Fred Smith

By AVA TURNQUEST

Tribune Chief Reporter

aturnquest@tribunemedia.net

GRAND Bahama Human Rights Association president Fred Smith on Friday railed against a bill tabled by the government that would allow police to intercept and examine a person’s communications from telecommunications operators, internet providers and postal services.

Mr Smith condemned the bill, which would streamline the process in which the Commissioner of Police can obtain a warrant from a judge, as an "unconstitutional and draconian" abuse of power.

Expressing grave concern that it was tabled so close to a general election, and as the government is engaged in a constitutional battle over parliamentary privilege and the rights of citizens, he urged all Bahamians to protest the legislation.

According to the Interception of Communications Bill, 2017, which was tabled on Wednesday night, this would be done in the “interest of national security,” which is defined as protecting the country from “threats of sabotage, espionage, terrorist acts, terrorism or subversion”.

The legislation will provide for the “interception of all communications networks regardless of whether they are licensed as public or not” for a period of three months, unless renewed.

The bill says this will include public telecommunications operators, internet providers and postal services.

"This is a completely unconstitutional anti-privacy spy act by the government," Mr Smith told The Tribune. "It is shocking that this government would have proposed this after they just passed the Freedom of Information Act. It is unbelievable that they should go 180 degrees the other way and pass a law that is going to savage everybody's privacy in the Bahamas.

Mr Smith said: "The Bahamas already has the Listening Devices Act. If you want to reform that act so police can conduct clandestine surveillance more effectively then do that. But to give the government through the Commissioner of Police, a political post, such power? Unfortunately there is no independent Director of Criminal Prosecutions; that is run by the Attorney General and that's a political position under any government. It is extremely dangerous to invest this kind of intrusive spying power to the government.

He continued: "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."

Last August, Justice Indra Charles ruled that Marathon MP Jerome Fitzgerald infringed on constitutional rights when he tabled the private emails of Save The Bays in Parliament, and therefore could not be protected by parliamentary privilege. Mr Fitzgerald has appealed that ruling, and the case is ongoing.

The Interception bill states that in order to obtain an interception warrant, the Commissioner of Police, or someone acting on his behalf, would have to petition the Attorney General to make an “ex parte” application to a judge in chambers.

To receive such a warrant, it must be proven that the information to be inspected cannot be acquired by any other means, the bill notes.

The Attorney General would also have to be satisfied that the warrant is needed in the “public interest or interest of justice”.

The bill also states that a person who unlawfully intentionally intercepts a communication is liable upon conviction to a fine not exceeding $50,000 or a prison term of up to four years.

Mr Smith said: "The parliamentarians did this in late hours of a parliamentary session, didn't circulate a draft bill as to why it's necessary. It takes the whole nation by surprise, and it's done on the eve of a general election. This must terrify every opposition candidate.

He added: "I encourage everyone to condemn it, to resist it and to protest against it. The mischief behind this act is that it is secret spying by a political directorate with no supervision, no scrutiny. It is an attempt to get around the constitutional protection to have your privacy and my privacy respected."

Under the new bill, the Attorney General will be mandated to table a report in both houses of Parliament outlining the number of warrants applied for to intercept communications, the number of warrants granted by the court, the average period of the warrants, the number of warrants refused/revoked by the court, the number of criminal proceedings started from evidence gleaned from communication interception and those that resulted in a conviction, among other provisions.

This must be done annually, within three months after the end of each year.

Comments

Franklyn 7 years, 5 months ago

...I would like to see the evidence that warrant such an abuse of civil liberty that a country like the Bahamas and The Bahamian people would be of any “threats of sabotage, espionage, terrorist acts, terrorism or subversion” to The Bahamas or any other country. ...maybe after we have a Bill to recall Ministers where the public can call for an investigation into cases of corruption and other evil abuses by Bahamian politicians ...our legal and especial our political system lack the basic elements of credibility to possess such powers. ...could you imagine the intimidation and abuses if these suckers can get hold of your private email communications - what an evil idea.

Well_mudda_take_sic 7 years, 5 months ago

Our Attorney General, the corrupt evil Wicked Witch (Allyson Maynard-Gibson), and our National Security Minister, the sleepy moronic pistol packing B J Nottage, would undoubtedly hold the view that all of us posting to this website are guilty of subversive bahaviour. I suspect if such unconstitutional legislation were ever enacted it would not be too long before the likes of Maynard-Gibson and Nottage seek to shut down the voice of the free press in our country, as well as the other "subversive" media outlets like radio and TV. And to think that other Fred (Fweddy Boy Michell) got all hot and bothered a few years back when he learned that the U.S. National Security Agency was secretly recording all voice and internet communications to, from and within our country. What a joke!

Tarzan 7 years, 5 months ago

This bill should be renamed "The Promotion of Encryption Services Act".

paul_vincent_zecchino 7 years, 5 months ago

Newton's Law demands it. Agree.

regrolli 7 years, 5 months ago

Another step towards dictatorship.

John 7 years, 5 months ago

What they are currently doing in parts of the US is gathering information from a persons social media activity, including Facebook postings, Twitter, SnapChat etc. They build filles on individuals based on this information. For example they have over 18,000 of individuals in Chicago suspected of murder, gang activity, drugs or weapons or the like. When the president, Donald Trump, decides to send the military into Chicago, it is suspected that many of these individuals will be arrested and put in jail. Since their arrests will be under military law, there will not have to be specific charges and they can be held longer than under a regular police arrest. These files will then be used to interrogate and 'incriminate' them. Who doesn't find it strange that a major city. like Chicago, can only solve less than 1/3 of 756 murders. Their policy was to 'let them kill up each other.' When the military goes in they would know who the murderers and gang members are. Many may not survive being arrested or make it to court. Others may sit in Jail for long periods with no specific charges.

Alex_Charles 7 years, 5 months ago

this bill scares me. It's like the patriot act in the US. It's nothing but a ploy

bogart 7 years, 5 months ago

Given that there has not been any INVESTIGATIONS OF EXISTING MAJOR ISSUES ALREADY KNOWN AND RESULTING PERSONS HELD LIABLE like the Bank of the Bahamas fiasco where the govt is the major shareholder and massive amounts of taxpayers dollars have to be pumped into it, failures of CLICO, Bahamas Supermarkets where numerous Bahamians are involved and in cases public funds are involved,the allegations of missing funds at a number of Public Departments, inquiries into what happened at Baha Mar where public birthright land etc was pledged and as to why and who knew what and when this massive failure was starting to occur and what steps could have been taken to prevent it and persons held responsible. If one cannot do what is proper and lawful with the massive information available with the aforementioned, then it is bewildering that laws are create to look into and PHISHING is to occur will be a lawful opportunity for the small man to be questioned while the big and powerful get off. In a small environment what will happen to info gleaned from Reporters private sources, lawyers and clients, Doctors and patients, Financial buying and who is selling shares, Banking transactions, Foreign Investors thinking of investing in certain areas etcetc.

birdiestrachan 7 years, 5 months ago

Fred Smith has been exposed for who he is. He who does nothing fears nothing. Perhps this law is needed for the security of the Bahamas. In my view Fred does not mean the Bahamas nor its people well. In spite of his Indian roots according to him.

Voltaire 7 years, 5 months ago

Yeah right birdie - "He who does nothing fears nothing" - so then give us your real name and tell us how much the PLP pays you to spin your pathetic nonsense all day long. Privacy is a human right enshrined in the Bahamas constitution. We all want privacy and we all deserve it. To suggest that anyone who wants to keep the government out of their affairs must be guilty of some offence is utter nonsense, and the height of hypocrisy from a hired attack troll like you who hides behind a pseudonym like a petty coward. And the idea that this is "needed for the security of the Bahamas" is utterly laughable. This government has already demonstrated why they want to rape people's privacy - to steal their emails so as to try and invent a hair brained conspiracy theory in an effort to save their own worthless political skins.

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