NASSAU, BAHAMAS – The government must ensure that the recently enacted “spy bill” is not utilized as a political instrument, said Joseph Darville, vice president of Rights Bahamas, yesterday.
The controversial Interception of Communication Act 2018, which was dubbed the “spy bill” in the lead up to the 2017 General Election, was enforced on February 1.
The legislation provides for the interception of all communication networks, which would include public telecommunication operators and Internet providers and also provides for the use of certain devices for listening to private conversations.
“We need to have public information with respect to what are the parameters of such a bill, who will be these persons who will be invading the secrecy of people, and that’s why I still call it a spy bill,” Darville told Eyewitness News.
“It’s not a security bill, we have enough measures in place in order to maintain the security of our small nation, and I don’t think this is necessary because it borders too much on the minute sort of surveillance of individuals who would have no need to be surveyed or spied upon in our country.”
A similar bill was introduced during the final months of the last Christie administration.
However, that bill was shelved after increased criticism and opposition from civil society and the Free National Movement, which labeled the legislation the “spy bill”.
At the time, FNM Leader Dr. Hubert Minnis said the bill had “more to do with blocking any opposition to this corrupt government (the PLP), than being a useful crime fighting tool”, adding it would be “a breach of the privacy of the public at large”.
Darville was among those parties who were heavily against that bill.
However, upon coming into office, the Minnis administration introduced its version of the ICB bill, which featured many provisions identical to the bill introduced by the Christie administration.
“When the spy bill as we call it was originally discussed under the previous administration, we took very strong objections to many of the aspects of it, for the simple reason that it would be able to finger in on the extreme privacy of people,” Darville said.
“…When it was reintroduced by the FNM government, we were taken by a greater surprise because many of our colleagues in the FNM…were actually detrimentally opposed to such a thing being enacted.
“So I am of the stance again that we do not understand it sufficiently, It has not been discussed with us, with respect to whose going to be given the ultimate permission to invade the privacy of people.”
Darville noted that his fear remains that the legislation could be used as a “political instrument”.
“Whoever is going to be the one appointed to oversee this dramatic invasion into the public and private life of individuals, we have to have that person scrutinized and we have to have a certain recall in order to make sure that this is not being used as a political instrument to spy upon opposition parties,” he said.
“…So we need to know exactly how this will function. Is it something that one individual party that’s in power has the authority now to investigate other entities in the country that might be opposed to them.
“The danger here is that it could be, what you may call incredible catastrophic denial of the democratic rights of people in a democratic society.”
In his defense of the government’s decision to reintroduce the bill, National Security Minister Marvin Dames insisted that the legislation will not be used to act on personal agendas, or go after “political adversaries, spouses and sweethearts”.
According to the act, an interception must be authorized by a judge, upon ex parte application by the attorney general, at the request of an authorized officer.
Those offenses for which an order can be requested include terrorist acts, terrorism financing, genocide, drug and firearms trafficking, money laundering, acquisition or creation of weapons of mass destruction, sabotage, espionage or subversion.