Cold cases piling up because police can’t access phone records – despite the law

Many police investigations are being stalled because telephone records are not being provided on request and according to a source this will continue unless the court hands down harsh penalties in keeping with the amended Telecommunications Act.

Over the years, it has been observed that mobile cellular phones are frequently used by criminals to facilitate the planning and commission of serious crimes, including murder, and as such the Telecommunications Act 1990 was amended to give police more powers to access information such as the identity of the person who owns a particular number that could assist in cracking a case.

However despite the legislative amendments, investigators often face challenges, and many files gather dust while perpetrators roam free because that critical piece of evidence against them cannot be accessed.

Guyana has two telephone service providers, GT&T and Digicel. When in need of information, Stabroek News was told that it is the Crime Chief who would write a letter to the service provider outlining what is needed and for what purpose.

A source said that one of the service providers is always prompt in delivering the requested information while the other in most cases is not. The source explained that the Telecommunications Act clearly states that a service provider must store the particulars and all information relating to any SIM card for five years and must release this information to the police once the SIM card is the subject of a criminal investigation.

According to the explanatory Memorandum of the Telecommunications  (Amendment) Bill 2008 dated 7th August, 2008, it is considered necessary to lay down provisions “making it compulsory for the telecommunications service providers of SIM cards and mobile cellular phone services to establish at its own cost a system of recording and storing particulars of its SIM cards and mobile cellular phones and the customers using the SIM cards or mobile cellular phones services.”

It is also stated clearly in the Act that the licensee shall record and store for a period of five years, the mobile subscriber integrated service digital network number (MSISDN number) or any equivalent identification number of the SIM card that is to be activated or reactivated; the international mobile equipment identity number (IMEI number) of the mobile cellular phone that is to be used; details pertaining to the persons who request that the SIM be activated or reactivated and the details of the “transactions of persons calling and person receiving calls and the time and duration of the calls.”

The Act also states that the licensee shall ensure that the facility in or on which the information is recorded and stored is secure and only accessible to persons “specifically designated or authorised by the licensee and the Police on request.”

The licensee, according to the Act, shall within twelve months from the date of commencement of this section, record and store the particulars of all SIM cards and mobile cellular phones that are used on its telecommunications system.

“A licensee… shall store the particulars of registration including any other data required to be stored under this Act and the data shall remain available when required by a person designated by the Minister or by the Police,” it states.

The source pointed to several investigations that urgently require telephone records to allow the police to follow up on clues they already have. The killing of 2010 New Amsterdam taxi driver Trevor Kissoon, the source said, is a prime example of a case that cannot be solved without access to phone records.

In this case, the police were forced to move to the court to get phone records from Digicel. Investigators were provided with the requested information from the other service provider.

The police had requested records from Digicel in relation to several numbers but that information was never provided. As a result, the police turned to the court for an order for the production of the particulars of the customer who purchased the SIM Card for an identified cell phone number as well as a record of all outgoing and incoming calls for June 8 to June 10, 2010 for four other numbers.

That case was pending but Stabroek News recently learnt the case was never heard. Some time after the application was made, the Chief Justice sent a note advising that a warrant from a magistrate should be sought to get the records needed.

“This is the end of that. The only thing to break this case is the records…” the source said, noting that this clearly shows that no one is enforcing the law.

The source told this newspaper of an instance where information pertaining to a murder last month was given to the police. “The police had all the phone records on all the calls made to and from that house,“ the source said, noting that this is how the relationship between the police and both service providers should be.

Among the other cases that are being stalled because of the unavailability of phone records are the 2010 disappearance of Babita Sarjou and the 2010 murder of HIV counsellor Seeraj Persaud.

The source told this newspaper that a drug case is hanging in limbo because of the absence of phone records and the investigating officer is at a loss as to what should be done.

“There are several matters where the breakthrough hinges on the phone records,” the source said, stressing that ranks from the Criminal Investigations Department (CID) often complain about the matters they have piling up because of this situation and express their frustration that nothing much is being done.

“It is a lawless society we live in and there are no sanctions. We have moved to the court and still nothing,” the source said before expressing the hope that one day something would be done and the police would be able to access critical pieces of information which would see the pile of cold cases being significantly reduced.

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