They Are Bugging Phones … But Won’t Tell Us!

State agencies in Jamaica are listening to private phone calls but
nobody will say who are the targets or how often calls are intercepted.
The
deafening silence comes at a time when the Barack Obama administration
in the United States (US) has admitted that it can read and store the
phone records of millions of Americans.
Last Wednesday, the Obama
administration made public a previously top-secret order that directed
the telecommunications company Verizon to hand over an immense number of
Americans’ phone records.
In the United Kingdom, it also emerged
last week that some of the world’s leading telecoms firms, including BT
and Vodafone, are secretly collaborating with Britain’s spy agency and
passing on details of their customers’ phone calls, email messages and
Facebook entries.
BT, Vodafone Cable, and the American firm
Verizon Business – together with four other smaller providers – have
given the spy agency unlimited access to their network of undersea
cables.

The cables carry much of the world’s phone calls and Internet traffic.
Locally,
efforts to get information from the Ministry of National Security and
other government entities on the number of private phone calls being
listened to by state agencies, such as the police and the army, have
been unsuccessful, and the private telecommunications companies also
will not tell.
Commissioner of Police Owen Ellington failed to
respond to a request for information seeking, among other things, to
establish how frequently the cops utilise the power given to them to tap
into people’s phone calls.
The Jamaica Defence Force’s (JDF) was also in no mood to provide details.
Captain Basil Jarrett, civil/military cooperation officer in the JDF, told source 
that wiretapping is one of several tools used by the security forces in
a bid to preserve Jamaica’s national security, but he refused to
provide details.
“In the conduct and execution of its various roles, the Jamaica Defence Force acts in accordance with the law at all times.
“With
regard to the Interception of Communications Act, it is but one of the
many tools in the national security infrastructure. However, given its
sensitive and critical nature, we are not able to discuss the details
regarding the use of this resource,” said Jarrett in a statement.
Under the Interception of Communications Act, the commissioner of police is one of the authorised officers who may apply, ex parte, to a judge for a warrant authorising the person named in the warrant to intercept telephone calls.
A
2006 amendment to that law allows the police to modify warrants and
effectively wiretap Jamaican citizens for up to seven days without an
order from the Supreme Court.
In addition, a 2004 memorandum of
understanding, signed with the US, allows the sharing of wiretap
information with that country’s Department of Justice.
With the state agencies mum, source
sought answers from the phone companies, but they also refused to say
how often agents of the State have tapped into their customers’ calls.
Communication
providers Flow Jamaica, Digicel and LIME provided general statements in
response to specific questions on the number of times authorised
officers have approached them with a court order to allow them to listen
to private calls.
“LIME observes our customers’ right to privacy,
and continues to invest in robust security systems and protocols to
ensure strict adherence to established policy and legislation,” said
Elon Parkinson, corporate communications manager at LIME, as he declared
that the company would say no more on the matter.
Denise
Williams, director of corporate communications for Columbus
Communications Jamaica Limited, operators of Flow and Columbus Business
Solutions, said the company treats all customer information and their
use of the services offered by their two brands as private and
confidential.
Williams sought to assure Flow customers that their privacy is being protected in accordance with the law.
“The
Telecommunications Act has a provision mandating every carrier to treat
all information relating to services used by our customers and their
information as secret and confidential. We assure our customers of their
privacy as part of our terms and conditions of service, and have
implemented practices and policies to maintain their privacy,” Williams
declared.
“The 2006 amendment related to Interception of
Communications does provide for exceptions governing the conditions and
type of information that shall be provided only to specifically defined
authorities, and we comply to the extent that is required by the
regulations.
“We have not invested in any equipment or technology to enable surveillance of customers’ use of the network and our services.”
In
the meantime, Richard Frazer, chief operation officer at Digicel
Jamaica, said his company was “not able to answer each question that you
raised”.
“Digicel continues to respect, and be guided by, the
laws governing the privacy and confidentiality of customer information
and is constrained from making any disclosures, other than in those
circumstances where the law requires disclosures to be made to
authorised institutions such as the Jamaica Constabulary Force,” said
Frazer.
To underscore his point, Frazer referenced last month’s
Supreme Court ruling which said that the Independent Commission of
Investigations did not have the power to compel Digicel to provide its
clients’ call data.
“Only recently, the State requested this type
of confidential information and the Supreme Court last month confirmed
that only in limited cases can the State or state agencies access our
customers’ confidential information,” said Frazer.
“Interceptions
or eavesdropping can only take place by order of the Supreme Court
without input or involvement of the telecoms operator,” Frazer
explained.
Meanwhile, a senior government lawyer, who spoke with source
on condition of anonymity, said the interception of communication
process is one that agents of the State do not want to identify
themselves with because there can be repercussions.
“It is a very
confidential process. People don’t want it to be known that they are
involved in the process for people to be able to point them out on the
road,” the attorney said, while adding that wiretaps are usually sought
for “high-level, dangerous targets”.
The lawyer confirmed that the
wiretap law is being used by law enforcement, but refused to comment on
the frequency with which it is employed in the crime-fighting process.

tyrone.reid@gleanerjm.com

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