Former Prime Minister Owen Arthur today sought to make it clear that neither he nor his Cabinet had sanctioned any illegal wiretapping of telephones between 2000 and 2009.
“This is a serious matter, but I can state categorically that no Cabinet I presided over in my 14 years in office sanctioned the tapping of any person’s telephones,” said Arthur, who was speaking in the House of Assembly during debate on the Telecommunications (Amendment) Bill 2017.
Opposition Barbados Labour of Party Member of Parliament for St George North, Gline Clarke, who served in Arthur’s Cabinet, also stated that the issue never came up during his tenure.
Their comments came after Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler today stated categorically that illegal wiretapping had occurred during the tenure of the last BLP Government.
However, Sinckler immediately clarified that it was not at Arthur’s authorization since his phone was among those allegedly bugged “sometime between 2000 and 2009” when “personal telephones in Barbados and Internet communications … were intercepted under the last Government”. The DLP assumed office in January, 2008, after defeating the Barbados Labour Party in the general election that year.
“I fear that the people who were sitting behind such a clandestine and wicked, and dastardly attempt to bastardize the rights of Barbadians in Barbados, criminal attempts, are waiting in the wings to gather unto themselves the power to continue with their nefarious activities when the elections is called,” Sinckler added, while pointing out that there was an affidavit supporting his claim.
However, Arthur said that as far as he was aware, from time to time the Royal Barbados Police Force undertook matters of public security and he urged his parliamentary colleagues to examine the Police Act to see who would have been empowered to give police authority to carry out any activity.
“Under Section 8 of the Police Act, the Commissioner of Police is only answerable to the Governor General, not to any political leader, so any matter of this nature is between the Police Commissioner and the Governor General in office at the time. It is a policing matter, not a parliamentary one,” Arthur said.
“Anyone who claims that phones were tapped for matters other than national security must bring proof. Bring the evidence because such statements have implications for the entire Cabinet,” the now Independent Member of Parliament for St Peter said.
This sentiment was echoed by Opposition Member of Parliament for St Michael South East, Santia Bradshaw, who pointed out that the ruling Democratic Labour Party (DLP) had ten years in which to investigate such claims and was now raising the matter on the eve of elections.
However, Prime Minister Freundel Stuart served notice today that legislation permitting law enforcement authorities to tap into private phones and Internet communications of Barbadians to halt illegal activity or catch lawbreakers was on the cards for the island.
Nonetheless, he sought to assure Barbadians that their privacy would be protected and that such interceptions would be only permitted only when authorities were convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt that criminal activity was afoot.
The Prime Minister said that the focus would be “to ensure that every mechanism is put in place to ensure that if there is going to be interception of the communications of any one in Barbados that interception is lawful and for a good reason”.
He added that “every law-abiding citizen of Barbados should be able to conduct his or her communications without any fear that anything said on a telecommunications medium is being recorded anywhere and can be used against him in any perverse and unlawful way”.
Stuart said, “every single citizen has a vested interest in this [legal communications interception] because we all want to assume that when we are communicating on our telephones or communicating by any other means by using modern technology that our communications are protected from unlawful interception”.
He however contended, “I don’t live in Cloud Cuckoo land. I live in the real world of time and space and people and I know that given the sophistication of the criminal element not only here in Barbados …that if we are to keep ahead of the criminal element, or at least keep abreast of them, there has to be interception of some kind”.
Stuart referred to what he said were past instances when drug traffickers and other lawbreakers on land and in the Barbadian territorial sea zone escaped dragnets set by local and Caribbean officials because the criminals used “sophisticated communications”.
Based on such examples, the Prime Minister said, “nobody can sensibly say that there does not need to be interception of some kind from time to time”.
He added, “there is no reason why the state should put itself in a position where the criminal element, the gun-toting element, the drug-trafficking element should be able to communicate freely with one another without the knowledge of those who are supposed to protect peaceful law-abiding citizens in Barbados or anywhere else”.
Further speaking of his concern that these intercepting facilities are “not abused and that the wrong person’s communications is not intercepted”, he said “unfortunately one of the tragedies of life in this region, and in this country, is that there have been fears … that there has been interference with the communication of some elected officials and other persons in the community”.
Stuart said there is “sworn affidavit evidence” of this happening in the past to people “who have no sense of being involved in any wrong-doing, who go about their duties lawfully serving the country”.