By RASHAD ROLLE
Tribune Staff Reporter
THE potential exists for politicians to violate the personal privacy of Bahamians under the Minnis administration's Interception of Communication Bill, former Attorney General Allyson Maynard-Gibson said Sunday as she encouraged Bahamians to pay close attention to the bill.
"The current government has decided that the executive - including the minister of national security - should have the right to intercept communications," Mrs Maynard Gibson said in a statement to The Tribune, referring to provisions in the newly tabled bill that differ from those included in the bill the Christie administration tabled earlier this year.
"This is, in my view, a bad decision. The pre-May 2017 complaints made by the FNM - and others, including their political hacks - definitely apply to the bill tabled in the House of Assembly last week. The bill gives politicians, and those subject to political influence, extensive powers. The former government outright rejected the notion that the executive should have such power.
"From 2014 - the handing down of the Maycock decision by the Privy Council - to the tabling of the bill, the former government's national and international advisors spent much time benchmarking and advising on the Interception (of) Communications Bill.
"The upshot of those consultations included final determinations that every order for the interception of communications must be issued by a Supreme Court judge - a member of an independent judiciary - being free from any, or any perception of, influence or interference by the executive. It also determined that the commissioner of police - and no one else - would be the 'authorised officer' who could approach the attorney general seeking his consent to apply to the Supreme Court for an interception order. Both of these prerequisites comported with the guidance of the Privy Council."
The former senator added: "I urge Bahamians and all persons within our borders to pay close attention to the bill tabled by the current government and the potential for politicians and those under the influence of politicians to violate personal privacy."
Tabled in the House of Assembly last week, the bill has been altered from the version the Christie administration brought to Parliament in several ways.
For one, it features the provisions that currently exist under the Listening Devices Act, an act the bill would repeal if enacted.
These provisions give the minister of national security and the commissioner of police power to authorise the use of listening devices for specified periods of time.
Mrs Maynard-Gibson frequently responded to criticism of the Christie administration's bill earlier this year by emphasising that their bill would remove this power and place all authorisation of communication interception solely in the hands of the Supreme Court.
Public uproar over the PLP's bill was significant enough that the former administration pulled it before the general election.
Members of the Free National Movement were among the fiercest critics of the bill, along with the human rights group like the Grand Bahama Human Rights Association and the We March movement.
State Minister for Legal Affairs Elsworth Johnson, who tabled the bill last week, said in February that the Christie administration's version was a "dangerous bill."
Last week, Mr Johnson said that unlike the previous administration, the Minnis administration will allow for a substantial consultation period on the bill before debate begins in Parliament.
Attorney General Carl Bethel met with representatives of civil society organisations, including We March leader Senator Ranard Henfield, to discuss the bill Friday. The National Intelligence Agency bill, also tabled last week, was also discussed.
In a statement to the press, Mr Bethel emphasised that the bills have been tabled as a "prelude to a series of national consultations prior to passage and that all views would be considered and purposive, positive suggestions carefully reviewed and where desirable implemented in the final versions of the bills, which would be submitted to the House for passage."