PORT OF SPAIN - The Trinidad and Tobago Government will be debating the Interception of Communications Bill, 2010 in the Republic's Parliament on Friday 19th November one week after.
The genesis of this bill stems from the disclosure by Prime Minister (PM) Kamla Persad-Bissessar of the existence of a spying operation which has operated under the previous government, lead by the Honorable Patrick Manning.
While in Parliament the PM disclosed that public and private citizens including President George Maxwell Richards of the twin island Republic, and PM and the Opposition leader, Keith Rowley by the Security Intelligence Agency (SIA).
The SIA had its St. Vincent Street, Port of Spain, offices locked down at 6 a.m. on October 23 after it was intercepted by the Special Brach, and the Anti-Corruption Investigation Bureau officers.
The Bill seeks to provide the legal structure within which public or private communications, can be lawfully intercepted.
Interception of communication will only be lawful if it is done through acquiring a warrant issued by a Judge on an application by a person authorized by the Minister to whom the responsibility for national security is assigned.
The Bill also makes it possible for an oral application for a warrant in urgent circumstances, subject to certain safeguards. Finally, the Bill provides that the content of a communication or communication data, which is lawfully obtained, is admissible as evidence in any criminal proceedings.
During Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar's statement in Parliament last Friday, Opposition leader Keith Rowley supported the PM and said the Opposition People's National Movement, was prepared to support urgent moves to approve legislation to allow for phone-tapping to be done under a system of judicial overview.
The Bill states that it might be inconsistent with sections 4 and 5 of the Constitution but it shall have effect even though inconsistencies may exist (PART I PRELIMINARY).
The bill states that any person who would intentionally intercept a communication in the course of its transmission by means of a telecommunications network commits an offence, and is liable on summary conviction to a fine of fifty thousand dollars and to imprisonment for three years, unless in obedience to a warrant issued by a Judge, or the transmitter consents to the interception.
Possession of interception devices can also mean a fine of two hundred and fifty thousand dollars and to imprisonment for five years.
Update: 26 November 2010
The Interception of Communications Bill was unanimously passed in the Trinidad and Tobago House of Representatives.
35 MPs (28 Government and 7 Opposition) voted. Former Prime Minister Patrick Manning was missing from the Opposition side, and MP Nela Khan from the government side.