Categorized | National News

Spy Bill Vital In Crime Fighting, Says Minister

Changes to the Spy Bill are in effect, says Minister of State for Legal affairs Ellsworth Johnson.

Speaking to a filled auditorium at a town meeting Monday held at the University of The Bahamas, the minister informed the public of such amendments.

When the Spy Bill was tabled in House of Assembly last year by Mr. Johnson, many Bahamians were reluctant to the Spy Bill being passed and  enacted.

“I am obviously the lone governmental representative in my position as Minister of State and I fully endorse a comprehensive modern interception of communications law as a vital part of the toolkit for fighting sophisticated technologically savvy criminals,” the Minister said.

Mr. Johnson indicated that he is working on the final draft of the surveillance legislation.

He said, “the protection of privacy of freedom of expression are fundamental rights in trying in the Constitution of The Bahamas and long recognized by the common law.

“Challenging the constitutionality of the Listening Devices  Act, the Privy council reminded us that privacy and freedom of expression are linked concepts and that both are engaged when considering the modern electrical surveillance mechanism,” Mr. Johnson stated.

In considering this legislation, no doubt this new legislation will affect the poor as much as it affects the rich, no one is immuned.

“Any legislation which intrudes  on privacy, freedom and expression on the fears of correspondence; rights which are considered basic to human existence will always be controversial and strongly opposed,” Mr. Johnson  explained.

Mr. Johnson clarifying  the changes   made to the Spy Bill,said, “what we have done, we have made certain changes to the bill which we hope will be profound on the Bahamian community.

“When examined closely, the 2017 bill permitted the interception of communications upon an allegation of the commission of an offense and the new bill now speaks to indictable offenses, not just any offense; that is one of the things that we have brought.

“To remedy this, the interception of Communications Bill in 2018, we have removed the expansive grounds warrants nearly for any offense.

“Instead, the current bill is limited to indictable offenses where the need for modern comprehensive statutory regime in interception of communication is needed,” the State Minister told the audience.

Moreover, under the prior Listening Devices Act, police officers would have had access to your cell phone and home telephone with the ability to physically ‘tap’ your lines and listen in on all your conversations.

However, there were challenges with this legislation.  Mr. Johnson went into some detail about said challenges authorities would face as it relates to privacy.

“How do we police the investigating authorities so that you can protect the fundamental rights of individuals so that there is just not card blinded persons that go into your private information and into your home?” Mr. Johnson posed the question.

“In effect, the Privy Council found that  the current Listening Devices Act  suffers  from a lack of independence supervision, both at its initial stage authorizing the Commissioner and with respect to the lack of arrangements, view and recording of the operations under the act,” Mr. Johnson confirmed.

Also in attendance was Queens Counsel, Wayne Munroe who spoke on behalf of the Bar association about the legislation for listening devices.

“It is clear that we now have legislation, so there is not a question as was advertised previously.

“This is the first time there is some giving to the police or the Minister of National Security certain powers,” Mr. Munroe indicated.

Mr. Munroe continued, “To understand the context, one has to look at the legislation that we presently have because there is a choice of us doing nothing.”

Written by Jones Bahamas

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