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New Spy Bill Tabled

By RASHAD ROLLE

Tribune Staff Reporter

rrolle@tribunemedia.net

THE Minnis administration tabled an Interception of Communication Bill and legislation to create legal framework for the disbanded National Intelligence Agency in the House of Assembly yesterday.

Both matters were controversial under the former Christie administration.

The Progressive Liberal Party’s version of the interception bill was criticised as unconstitutional, and it was withdrawn by the former administration from the House of Assembly for further consultation before the general election.

The previous legislation was abandoned amid outcry from activists as well as the Free National Movement, in opposition at the time, expressing fear the PLP would use the so-called “Spy Bill” against opponents.

Compared to the original Bill, the Minnis administration’s version has not been significantly altered.

Proponents of the legislation say it is a modern crime fighting tool, one that gives the Supreme Court some oversight of interception activities, a power the court doesn’t have under the Listening Devices Act which it would repeal.

The legislation broadens the communication services and networks from which law enforcement officers could intercept data, and it allows officers to obtain entry warrants from the Supreme Court so they could secretly enter institutions to set up interception devices. It forces people who work for postal or communications services, be they public or private networks, to assist in the execution of an interception or entry warrant.

Unlike the original bill, the new bill gives the minister responsible for national security the power to authorise certain people to use listening devices for no more than 30 days so long as the minister is “satisfied that the interests of the defence or the internal security of the Bahamas so require” that it be done.

The Interception of Communication Bill also gives the commissioner of police, after consultation with the attorney general, similar powers to authorise a police officer to use a listening device for no longer than 14 days.

Meanwhile, the NIA Bill comes after the former Christie administration spent years promising, but ultimately failing, to bring the version of the Bill it said was prepared. Despite no legal framework being in place, the NIA operated under the Christie administration until it was disbanded by the Free National Movement shortly after the May general election.

The Bill, which aims to “coordinate intelligence gathering among law enforcement agencies and government departments,” is striking for its emphasis on secrecy.

Although the director of the agency is expected to maintain a public profile, the agents of the NIA are expected to have their identities kept secret.

The agents will not be “public officers,” the Bill said, and it would be an offence to disclose their identity unless authorised by the prime minister or director.

A review committee of parliamentarians and senators will have oversight over the NIA.

This committee will consist of three parliamentarians and two senators selected by the prime minister, and one parliamentarian and senator selected by the leader of the Official Opposition.

Although the review committee can consider “any particular operational matter” of the NIA, this power can be limited by the prime minister, according to the Bill.

The review committee’s access to information can also be limited.

The relevant minister could decide that any information the review committee seeks should not be disclosed to it.

The committee would be required to make annual reports to Parliament on the discharge of its functions, but only if the prime minister believes its reported material wouldn’t be prejudicial to the functions of the agency.

The review committee would be responsible for investigating complaints against the NIA and could summon and enforce the appearance of anyone to give evidence under oath during an investigation.

State Minister for Legal Affairs Elsworth Johnson, who tabled both bills, said the administration will allow a period of public consultations to take place before debate on the tabled bills takes place in Parliament.

Comments

young242 1 year, 11 months ago

This bill is worse than the first one, the first one took the power away from the ministers and placed the power into the hands of the judiciary. This bill allows Marvin Dames to have the power to authorize someone to spy on Bahamians. Have we as a country forgotten the a body was moved on Marvin Dames watch when he was a chief of police, he was the first on the scene and could not answer.

Nah, the country needs to wake up. No minister and/or political party/politician need to have that power.

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Alex_Charles 1 year, 11 months ago

Fk this bill.

Where are the marchers? Oh right...

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Baha10 1 year, 11 months ago

I thought the FNM thought this was a "bad thing"?!? ... and I voted FNM!

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Truism 1 year, 11 months ago

Perhaps changes were made which made this no longer a Spy Bill. SAD! Now we know how intellectually dishonest these commentators are.

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Voltaire 1 year, 11 months ago

The government needs to hand this Bill over to the public so we can see what it says. Then, we decide whether to march.

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Well_mudda_take_sic 1 year, 11 months ago

I read the entire 'spy' bill and had all I could do to contain my many grave concerns while doing so. Succinctly put, such a statute is most ill-suited for our country no matter what the authorities in the more developed countries may have to say about our need for it. We do not need this spy bill to fight the type of crime that exists in our country. Agencies of developed countries would have us believe we need it to help fight global terrorism. Well that's nothing but hogwash. The developed countries are the targets of terrorism and they have both the need and resources necessary to fund the spying activities of highly secretive national security agencies. That's not the case for our small financially strapped country. But perhaps more importantly, any such a spy statute would be much too prone to abuse by any government of the Bahamas and a serious threat to our constitutional rights and democracy.

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Reality_Check 1 year, 11 months ago

Can you just imagine for one moment how such a spy statute would have been used by the corrupt Christie-led PLP government???!!!! Crooked Christie and his evil wicked witch of an attorney general (Allyson Maynard-gibson) would have used the dangerous spying powers to serve their own very corrupt greedy purposes and at the same time crush the voices of all opposition to them. The change of government on May 10, 2017 would never have occurred and most of us who heavily criticized the PLP (including many bloggers to this website) would have probably faced trumped up bogus charges of one kind or another before being carted off to prison. "No!" we cannot afford for any government to ever have such dangerous and intrusive powers over us. It would result in the end of our constitutional rights and democracy no matter what the distinguished lawyers and politicians in our country may tell us. That's the harsh reality! The threats to our society are not such that we should be willing to allow our government to listen in to our most private conversations and surveil all our other communications (internet and otherwise). Simply put, the dangers of doing so far outweigh any possible benefits! If there is one matter that warrants a national referendum, it would be this proposed spy statute as it would definitely be challenged on many legal fronts eventually triggering the need for the proposal of certain undesirable amendments to our existing constitution. With this in mind, a national referendum should be held first as opposed to the Minnis-led FNM government trying to ram the proposed spy statute down our throats after informal public commentary on it. Do the right thing Minnis - call for a national referendum (not a public survey) on this most important matter!

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Well_mudda_take_sic 1 year, 11 months ago

Christie and Maynard-Gibson would have somehow rationalized having every phone and computer at The Tribune and Nassau Guardian and the homes of their Editors and owners tapped and surveilled over and over again for lengthy periods of time. What amazes me is how so little public attention is so far being paid to the proposed spy statute given its national importance and significance.

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realfreethinker 1 year, 11 months ago

The bill is being circulated for public input and amendments. At you all will have a chance to affect the final bill. The corrupt wasn't giving ya'll a chance to even see the bill

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Well_mudda_take_sic 1 year, 11 months ago

@Reality_Check is right in his/her post above. Forget costly time consuming informal public commentary on a proposed spy bill and other related legislation that would be necessary. What we really need is a snap national referendum to find out whether Bahamians are willing to give their government such dangerous and intrusive powers in the first place; powers that can be all too easily used for unintended purposes with the most undesirable consequences for each and everyone of us.

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