As Barbados looks for a solution to a wave of violent crimes sweeping the country, one prominent criminal attorney does not believe introducing wiretapping legislation is the way to address the issue.
In fact, Queen’s Counsel Andrew Pilgrim believes police officers in Barbados do a good enough job investigating and therefore do not need to go to such lengths.
Wiretapping is defined as the monitoring of telephone and Internet conversations by a third party, often by covert means. It is widely used internationally in countries such as the US, Canada and India. In Canadian law, police are allowed to wiretap without the authorization from a court when there is the risk for imminent harm, such as kidnapping or a bomb threat.
In the first month of 2019, Barbados has already recorded nine murders and over a dozen shootings. Most of these have been linked to the illegal drug trade and criminal turf conflicts.
There have been reports that illegal wiretappings have been conducted in Barbados for more than a decade. An official probe conducted by the Police Service Commission (PSC) has previously indicated that the practice has been carried out by the Royal Barbados Police. Two officers of the Special Branch gave sworn affidavits to the PSC admitting to carrying out wiretappings under instructions.
In an interview, Pilgrim told Barbados TODAY he saw no need for wiretapping legislation.
“I’m not convinced that phone tapping is the way forward as a way of detecting crime in Barbados. Generally, I’m of the view that police in Barbados do a fairly good job of making their arrests, and without phone tapping. There are so many other scientific methods of getting good evidence,” he said.
The veteran lawyer said the pros of wiretapping were far outweighed by the cons.
“Balancing the benefits of phone tapping for the prevention of crime against the serious risks of people’s privacy is too great. I don’t like the idea of people having to give up their privacy so that crime investigation can be improved. Crime investigation in Barbados is pretty good as it is,” Pilgrim said.
But another criminal lawyer had different views on the matter.
Mohia Ma’at told Barbados TODAY that with the recent upsurge in violent crimes, wiretapping would provide useful information once it was properly used.
“With the unprecedented increase in crime as seen with the start of the year and the ease of having a phone, the combination makes wiretapping a magnificent tool in the use of crime prevention.
“This type of surveillance, because it is relatively inexpensive to deploy especially when compared to the potentially useful information that can be obtained in total secrecy, are great reasons for the police to have it as part of their arsenal stock to fight crime,” Ma’at said.
However, he too raised concerns about the manner in which wiretapping would be used.
He maintained that wiretappings should only be done in serious cases that posed a threat to national security and that a cap should be put on the number allowed.
“By the very nature of the secrecy and ease of eavesdropping on the conversations of us good citizens, the police being the users can potentially become the abusers of such “listening ins”. The police could easily now hold the licence to malicious in people’s business under the guise of crime prevention,” Ma’at said.
“So as in all things a balance would have to be struck. The issuance of any warrant or order permitting the use of wiretapping should be done in only the most extreme and serious of circumstances involving matters of national security or crimes involving matters of life and death.
“A cap of no more than 20 wiretapping surveillances per year should be instituted to deter any potential widespread abuse,” Ma’at added.