(Trinidad Express) Without going to a judge, there have been 267 instances of wiretapping of communications between December 17, 2010 and December 31, 2011 under the Interception of Communications Act.
All interceptions were done on the authority of the director of the Strategic Services Agency (SSA). And 52 arrests/detentions were made as a consequence of this action.
This information is contained in the annual report of the Ministry of National Security on the Interception of Communications Act, which was tabled in the House of Representatives yesterday.
Under the Act, communications include speech, sounds, visual images and data of various descriptions.
The report reveals that none of the 267 instances of interception was done on the basis of an application to a judge for a warrant to intercept, which is provided for under Section 8 of the Act. This section, however, is used when the interception is for “evidentiary purposes”.
Instead, the interception was done pursuant to another section of the Interception of Communications Act —Section 6 (2)(b)—which allows an “authorised officer” to intercept communications for intelligence gathering for four reasons:
1. in the interest of national security
2. the prevention or detection of an offence for which the penalty on conviction is imprisonment for ten years or more, and includes an offence which death, imprisonment for the remainder of a person’s natural life or life imprison- ment is the penalty fixed by law
3. the purpose of safeguarding the economic well-being of the State or
4. the purpose of giving effect to the provisions of any international mutual assistance agreement.
The Act stipulates the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), the Commissioner of Police and the director of the SSA are the sole persons authorised to make interceptions for such prescribed intelligence-gathering purposes.
Housing Minister and Acting Attorney General Roodal Moonilal said yesterday Government was “very proud” to have laid the annual report of the Ministry of National Security on the Interception of Com- munications Act. “This is a historic report. It is the first time, in the history of a democratic Parliament of Trinidad and Tobago, a report is laid on the matter of interception of communications,” he said.
He said when the People’s Partnership came to office, there was secrecy and there was the illegal bugging of people’s phones. “I heard the Leader of the Opposition quarrelling (on Monday), saying somebody bugging his phone. People suing him, they taping his conversations. This poor, hapless Leader of the Opposition. I want him to know that it is due to this Government that we can come to the democratic state where a report on the interception of communications is laid in the House. And anything outside of this is illegal. And this Act of Parliament, which we all passed, describes the offences you commit if you wiretap anybody’s phone outside of this law,” Moonilal said.
He said he remembered the stories told by the Prime Minister when she tabled the Bill, about the widespread, illegal wiretapping of persons’ phones under the last administration.
Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley said yesterday there was a huge, gaping loophole which allowed Government to wiretap and categorise it under the conditions prescribed under Section 6 (2)(b) of the Act. “Once it is so categorised, then it is deemed to be legal,” he said.
The report states the “area of interest” which caused most of the interceptions was counternarcotics, which had 109 of the 267 applications. State-of-Emergency-related interceptions accounted for 87, counterterrorism—42, serious crime—24, arms and ammunition—three, and human trafficking—two. (See table above)
The report states there were 20 narcotics-related arrests/detentions, and 59 kilogrammes of cocaine and 70 kilogrammes of marijuana were seized as a result of the interception of communications. The report noted that out of these arrests, there was one pending extradition to the United Kingdom for trafficking of narcotics.
It said there were 17 counterterrorism-related arrests/detentions and 15 arrests/detentions for serious crime arising from the interceptions.
In the area of serious crimes, the report stated some US$19,000 and 10,000 pounds sterling were seized because of the interception.
It said arms were also seized—one high-powered FAL rifle, one MAC-11 submarine gun, one Ruger pistol, one Taurus pistol and an undisclosed quantity of ammunition.
The Interception of Communications Act 2010 imposes an obligation- under Section 24 (1) (m)—to include in the annual report a general assessment of the importance of private communications for the investigation, detection, prevention and prosecution of offences in the State.
The report noted the illegal activities of local terrorist and organised criminal groups would remain largely undetected were it not for the close collaboration of the SSA with the other arms of national security.
“Offences such as money laundering, human trafficking and/or participation in terrorist activities present serious threats to the safety and stability of the State and, by extension, the region. Interception of communications provides a means for the police to detect and investigate the commission of such offences,” the report stated.