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Smith wants govt to take time to consult on Bill

Fred Smith

Fred Smith

By RICARDO WELLS

Tribune Staff Reporter

rwells@tribunedmedia.net

THE government must hold off on its attempt to pass the recently tabled Interception of Communications Bill, 2017, and offer the public a chance to “look at its pros and cons,” Grand Bahama Human Rights Association President Fred Smith, QC, said yesterday.

Mr Smith, who condemned the bill last week, said while he agrees with the government and Attorney General Allyson Maynard-Gibson’s position that the Listening Devices Act needs to be improved to reflect modern technology, the provisions in the new legislation would “turn privacy inside out”.

He said a bill such as this requires “deliberate consultation” by all sectors of society, and not forced down the throats of the citizenry.

According to the bill, interception 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”.

Mr Smith, who has had his past troubles with the Christie administration over the right to privacy, expressed concern over what the term subversion could entail over time.

He said subversion could be perceived as any simple form of “political dissent,” adding that this can be construed to mean anyone openly disagreeing with the government.

He added: “So they will accuse anybody who doesn’t tow the line, who doesn’t agree with everything every politician is going to say or do, whatever the government proposes, as being a subversive, as being a destabiliser as the person trying to bring the government down.

“That is the job of the Opposition, that is what every Opposition does in any democratic society. They try to change the government. And that can be defined as subversion.”

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 Smith is legal director of Save The Bays.

Mr Fitzgerald has appealed that ruling, and the case is ongoing. He and other members of the government have repeatedly accused STB of attempting to destabilise the Christie administration.

“…There should be proper time for people to consider it, to look at what legislation has been proposed in other jurisdictions, how it is working in other countries, to what extent it has or hasn’t been abused and civil society, the bench, the bar, members of Parliament, everybody needs to have an opportunity to be engaged in this process of considering this piece of legislation because it is going to change The Bahamas forever,” Mr Smith said in an audio recording sent to the media yesterday.

The noted attorney added: “It is not an FNM issue, it is not a PLP issue, it is not a DNA issue; this Interception of Communication Bill that is being proposed is just like the 2002 referendum to bring equality to the Bahamas. It was rushed back in 2002 and this (bill) is being rushed in 2017.

“You can’t propose a bill like this overnight and push it down the throats of the Bahamian citizenry and expect that everyone is just going to lay back and accept it.”

Mr Smith further urged primarily Mrs Maynard-Gibson to withdraw the bill from Parliament, stating: “…. Take it off the table, put it out for consultation with the public so that everyone can digest it, we can consider it, we can look at its pros and cons, we can make suggestions for its changes or not and we can come back, and together as a nation we can address the crime challenges we are facing.”

He continued: “Of course we have crime. Of course we need modern provisions for surveillance, but this bill is extreme, it draconian, it is going to change everybody’s life forever.”

“It is even more important on the two referendums on equality that have been proposed. This is going to take away everybody’s right to privacy and it is going to, if used in the wrong hands or if abused, it is going to destroy democracy in The Bahamas.

“So I urge the government to withdraw this bill and to put it out for consultation; just like how it took the government two, three, four, five years for the government to have consultation with the Freedom of Information Act, we also need to have proper consolation in an act that is going to take away, potentially, everybody’s privacy.”

The legislation as proposed, 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.

The legislation would allow the commissioner of police, or someone acting on his behalf, to ask the attorney general to petition a Supreme Court judge for an interception warrant.

Mr Smith implored the government to “do right by the Bahamian people” by allowing them a say on a piece of legislation he claimed, could change the country forever.

Comments

bluesky 7 years, 5 months ago

Mr. Smith, first you condemned the bill, then you asked Bahamians to kill the bill, now you want the Govt to take time to Consult On the Bill? very confusing,

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