Govt, opposition remain at odds over ‘spy bill’
The Interception of Communications Bill, 2017 (ICB) will remain in committee stage after the opposition raised concerns about the bill.
“This legislation predates this administration and it was vigorously opposed by this current administration in opposition because they said it was far reaching and intrusive,” Englerston MP Glenys Hanna-Martin said in the House of Assembly yesterday.
“When this came to us, similarly, from the Office of the Attorney General, there would have been provisions which would have empowered the comptroller of customs for the first time ever in the history of our country to be able to request the ability to listen to conversations of citizens or non-citizens and we agreed that we would not advance or extend the power.
“We are very surprised to see that provision in this particular bill. So we are unable to support that. We believe, as the leader of the opposition has indicated, that the whole purpose of the legislation is in response to a Privy Council decision, which speaks about greater transparency and accountability of listening by the police and this is not an opportunity to create new avenues for intrusive listening opportunities on the citizens of our country.
“We are not able to support that particular provision.”
In response to Hanna-Martin, St. Anne’s MP Brent Symonette said the government will not move to pass the bill at this time.
“I think it is safer and better to go back, remove the discussion of this bill in terms of committee stage, and we will come back to it at a later date so that the concerns of both sides can be taken into consideration,” he said.
During debate on the bill last month, Opposition Leader Philip Brave Davis said he would never support a bill that allows “politicians to listen in on communications by our private citizens”.
The controversial provision, which would have allowed the national security minister to approve the interception of communications in certain instances, was expected to be deleted from the bill in the committee stage.
The Christie administration introduced a similar bill during its final months in office, but that bill was shelved in the face of staunch opposition from a cross section of civil society groups as well as the Free National Movement (FNM), which called the bill the “spy bill”.
At the time, FNM Leader Dr. Hubert Minnis said the Christie administration’s bill “has more to do with blocking any opposition to this corrupt government (the PLP), than being a useful crime fighting tool”.
But Minister of National Security Marvin Dames has said that no one would be allowed to use the legislation to act on personal agendas and go after “political adversaries, spouses and sweethearts”.
The ICB 2017 provides for the interception of all communication networks, licensed as public or not. This would include public telecommunication operators and Internet providers.
An interception must be authorized by a judge, upon ex parte application by the attorney general, at the request of an authorized officer.
An authorized officer includes the commissioner of police or a person authorized by the director of the Bureau of Investigation.
Qualifying offenses for an interception order include terrorist acts, terrorism financing, genocide, drug and firearms trafficking, money laundering, acquisition or creation of weapons of mass destruction, sabotage, espionage or subversion.
The bill also provides for the use of certain devices for listening to private conversations.