August 28, 2009
PM: Government not involved in tapping phones

The passage of legislation to allow law enforcement authorities to intercept various forms of communication such as telephone conversations and e-mail transmission is not on the Government’s agenda.{{more}}

In an exclusive interview with SEARCHLIGHT on the matter which has been generating interest as far back as 2006, Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves gave the assurance that wire tapping is not taking place in St.Vincent and the Grenadines from the Government’s end.

“There is a lot of opinion which will be supportive of Grenville (Grenville Williams, Acting Director of the Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU) ) but the point is this, I have made it plain that that’s an issue on which you require all party support if anybody was to move on that in St.Vincent and the Grenadines,” said Prime Minister Gonsalves, adding “that’s not on our agenda to move with it”.

Two weeks ago the Acting Director of the FIU recommended that the Government pass Interception of Communication Legislation for St.Vincent and the Grenadines. At the time he disclosed that St.Vincent and the Grenadines’ neighbour St.Lucia had already introduced the law. Williams’ comments were in direct response to questions about the challenges facing the FIU in investigating financial fraud and proceeds of crime.

Williams noted that crime-fighting must be intelligence-led and this should involve the use of technological tools. He pointed out that the State in its effort to combat crime should have access to communication tools if it is going to be tough on crime.

“What Grenville is saying is something which is factual,” said Dr. Gonsalves.

He, however, gave the assurance “that there is none of that taking place in this country surreptitiously, certainly not by the Government. We don’t authorize any such thing,” said the Prime Minister.

Dr.Gonsalves explained that there is technology available where people can tap telephones and intercept communication.

“I suspect you have a number of enthusiasts who probably would do it. Maybe on a limited scale, but I don’t know. I really don’t know,” Dr. Gonsalves stressed, adding “the government certainly doesn’t involve itself in any of this”.

Dr.Gonsalves said the call for the passage of legislation to allow law enforcement authorities to intercept various forms of communication such as telephone conversations and e-mail transmission could be explored, “but the truth is this, we have so many things on our agenda and we are using other tools.”

In March 2006, as the Government’s Security Adviser, Sir Vincent Beache, at the commissioning of electronic birth and marriage certificates here, used the occasion to point out that security in the country can be enhanced by making it legal for the police to listen in to telephone conversations.

This caused a big debate on the issue between the Government and the Opposition at the April 25 sitting of the House of Assembly that same year.

At that sitting, the Prime Minister mentioned that he had to write Cable & Wireless, now LIME, to find out if his phone was tapped.

“Sometimes when I hear certain things go on my phone at the office of the Prime Minister, and sometimes at my home, certain kinds of clicks, I wonder if some people ain’t tapping my phone,” said Dr.Gonsalves at the time, while pointing that there existed certain type of devices which could be purchased to effect such operations. (HN)