Monday 24 February, 2020

Lawyers, journalists warned to watch out for Interception Bill

From left to right: Opposition Senator Taharqa Obika; Opposition Leader Kamla Persad Bissessar; Point-a-Pierre MP David Lee.

From left to right: Opposition Senator Taharqa Obika; Opposition Leader Kamla Persad Bissessar; Point-a-Pierre MP David Lee.

“Journalists you’re endangered, lawyers you’re becoming an endangered species.”

That was the warning issued by Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar who held a media conference at the press room of the Parliament on Friday, to alert the public about the Interception of Communications (Amendment) Bill, 2020.

The Bill, laid in the Parliament by Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi on Tuesday, seeks to amend the Interception of Communications Act, Chapter 15:08, to allow for the interception of communications from prisons and vehicles used to transport prisoners. It’ll give police officers the opportunity to apply for a warrant to obtain stored data from a telecommunications service provider and disclose the said information as specified under a warrant. The Bill will also establish the procedure for the disclosure of sensitive details and allow for intercepted data to be admissible as evidence in court.

Taking issue with the proposed legislation, Persad-Bissessar warned that the legal profession is the main sector at risk.  

“It allows the interception of communication from prisons, which should not be happening in the first place, then says legal professional privilege is not exempted unless it is done in a place designated by the Minister or on a designated device. The bill really is saying: lawyers speaking to clients, sorry, we are going to intercept. They are not exempted from interception.”

The career politician and former practising attorney went on to note that decided cases - both locally and abroad - deem the removal of legal professional privilege “draconian and dictatorial”.

She also took aim at the clause which said that communication would only remain private in a designated placed.

“That makes no sense because you have to use a designated device in a designated place but the device may not say and cannot say where the recording took place.”

The Opposition Leader turned her attention to journalists, stating that the entire profession was under threat.

“Confidential journalistic materials and sources of journalistic information will be impacted on and of course, subject to being intercepted and then used against persons. I think that right of a journalist is also another fundamental right not to disclose any sources but, if they are going to be intercepting your data, any telecom provider, they will be getting to you.”

The Government also proposed that the Bill be retroactive which means it would take effect from a date in the past. However, Persad-Bissessar said this was not acceptable.

“If something was not illegal in the past, you cannot go now, today, to incriminate someone for something that at the time it was being done it was not illegal. That’s how the law should operate. This goes against the grain of that fundamental principle that you do not retroact criminality but you can go forward with criminality”.

The Interception of Communications (Amendment) Bill, 2020 will be debated in the House of Representatives on February 11, 2020.


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