|PM Reveals PUP Intrusion of Civilians Privacy|
|Written by Shane D. Williams|
|Thursday, 30 September 2010 00:00|
The debate that focused on the Interception of Communications Bill will go down as the most memorable one from Friday, September 24th, 2010 sitting of the House of Representatives. The bill provides for the legal interception of communications that could possibly lead to the commission of crime. This measure has been adapted by other countries in the region for modern day crime fighting. Organizing crimes have become easier with technology; if crime fighters do not upgrade they will remain one or more steps behind the criminals. It is widely known that an orchestrated hit is only a call or text message away. By giving the Police Department the resource and authority to intercept these messages through legislation, many crimes can be prevented.
However, the Opposition rose in the House and opposed the bill. They would have one believe that the government will be listening to everyone’s conversation at all times just for amusement. The Leader of the Opposition spoke about the bill being loose; opened to abuse and an invasion of privacy. The Prime Minister corrected him on several points. PM Barrow reiterated that there are provisions included in the bill that make its intrusion on privacy limited if not nonexistent. In order to intercept communications, the police department must apply for an order from a Supreme Court Justice. They must prove that their subject is a criminal threat to society. The strict procedures in acquiring an order to conduct communication interception ensures that only individuals involved in crimes will be monitored. Once the order is approved the Justice will set a time limit on the order and there must be periodical updates to determine if the order is worthy of an extension.
The Prime Minister explained to the Leader of the Opposition that, just as the criminal bills he opposed were not new, interception of communications in Belize is not new. He then made a shocking revelation that the People’s United Party has been intercepting communications of individuals dating back to October 5th, 1981, shortly after Independence. The earliest record of interception, October 5th, 1981, was done through a warrant signed by Minister CLB Rogers of the People’s United Party. PM Barrow revealed that there were several intercept orders signed by various Ministers of Internal Affairs or National Security. Those included several signed by Curl Thompson in the mid 80’s and George Price in the early 90’s. This practice stopped in 1993 when the Honourable Dean Barrow became the Minister of National Security. PM said, “I refused to sign any such document.”
What seems to have caught even the Leader of the Opposition off guard was the revelation of the most recent cases of unlawful intercepts. PM Barrow shared that an official police report provided information about intercepts that were conducted during the last administration headed by Said Musa. This information was confirmed by representatives from Telemedia. Wires were extended from the St. Thomas Street tower to the “basement” of the Raccoon Street Police Station. The facility at the police station was used to tap land lines of members of the public. Since only a certain number of lines could be tapped at any one time, technicians were routinely sent back to the “basement” to change the subject of the intercept. Musa rose and demanded that PM Barrow withdraw the statement. However, he was silenced and humbled as the PM threatened to show the proof and share the subjects of the intercept. He sat back in his chair swallowing his feet, while Johnny Briceno was left speechless. Just as thousands of Belizeans were left speechless at the thought: “Who were the subjects of those intercepts?”
The Interception of Communications Bill does not only provide for the legal interception of communications that could lead to the commission of crime. It also criminalizes the unlawful interception of communication.