Number 851 • Friday, February 18, 2011

Government: Invasion of Privacy Fears Unfounded
By Sheena Brooks
Attorney General and Minister of Justice and Legal Affairs Hon. Patrice Nisbett
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The Interception of Communications Bill 2011 became Federal law on Friday (Feb. 11), and government ministers say citizens should not fear any invasions of their privacy.

The Bill allows authorities legal access to individuals’ communications via mobile phones; landline phones; electronic mail; telegraphs; wireless networks and devices; mailing systems, including parcels and couriers; and other communication methods.

Attorney General and Minister of Justice and Legal Affairs Hon. Patrice Nisbett said the draft legislation included a number of safeguards to ensure the protection of person’s civil rights. He explained that the Interception Bill was passed to protect law abiding citizens from those intent on committing criminal acts.

“There was much discussion about abuse of information. I know we can’t effectively legislate how human beings will behave in a particular situation, but we have made provisions for the possible abuse of information. We have elaborate provisions ... effective checks and balances that are crucial to maintaining the standard that is required in relation to the operation of this legislation. This legislation is really for the protection of the public; it is not, as they say, to invade people’s privacy. It is for us to improve on our national security apparatus so that we can be in a position make the citizens safe. In order to steal a march on the criminals, we have to give law enforcement the necessary tools to do that, and this is one such legislation to deal with the issue of crime fighting.

“I wish those charged with the administration of this piece of legislation would try as much as possible to minimize and eliminate any possible violation of citizens’ rights. We have provided the crucial oversight and accountability in this legislation that is required for public confidence,” he assured.

According to Nisbett, the legislation would not be applied “willy-nilly” but would only be allowed by an order of the Court.

“If you want to intercept communication, one will have to have a High Court Judge make that particular order,” he said.

He also informed that a tribunal led by a High Court Judge would be established where grievances on this matter could be heard. This tribunal, he said, would be an independent body that would not be required to consult with either the Prime Minister or Leader of the Opposition.

“We have set up in this legislation, an independent body to act as a buffer between the political executives and the citizens who may be subject to abuse or the invasive interception of communication,” he stated.

As it related to infringement of person’s rights, the AG said such rights were not absolute; however, the legal interception of communication would not be a violation of civil rights.

“The fundamental human rights and freedoms that we enjoy are not, under the Constitution, absolute rights; they are qualified rights. And this is one situation that the Parliament is empowered to make law that may appear to encroach upon those rights, but from a constitutional point of view there is no encroachment upon those rights,” he said.

Minister of National Security Hon. Sam Condor supported the Bill, saying the piece of legislation was not intended to abuse or violate the fundamental rights and freedoms of any individual, however that “the road to hell is paved with good intentions, and we cannot legislate for the human factor.”

“Your concerns and fears are real but there are provisions and safeguards, so we have to depend on the people to do the right thing. … We can’t anticipate how people will behave, but we are hoping that everybody will behave well, and we will see the desired results. … I do not want to be known to be associated or have any legacy in any shape or form involving the misuse, abuse or any violation of anyone’s rights,” he said.

Condor posited that the current level of crime in the Federation was unacceptable and the countless break-ins and armed robberies were “intolerable” and that government “had to do something about it now.” He held that view that the Bill was extremely necessary and timely, and the pros outweighed the cons.

“In the process, some things must happen that are not so nice but we have to do a balancing act. It is a thin line, but we can’t abrogate our responsibility because we don’t want to believe that there might be potential for good. We don’t have any absolute freedoms and rights, because your freedom might be imposing on another man’s freedom, so we can’t allow these people to get away, to run rampant in our country because we believe that there might be potential for abuse,” he asserted.

Opposition parliamentarian Hon. Eugene Hamilton said under the new Bill, individuals would have no expectations of privacy because of “state monopolized spy technology.” He contended that although the legislation should be applauded, it could be used for criminal misconduct on the part of those in authority.

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