Two controversial phone tapping bills are heading to the Cypriot House next month, giving law enforcement officials better tools to carry out covert surveillance but also providing more checks and balances.
The Judiciary House committee on legal affairs is expected to push forward the two surveillance bills, essentially amending current legislation that allows officers to carry out covert operations by tapping phones and monitoring private communication data of suspects.
The amended legislation, which has been the topic of many discussions in the last year, will expand the tools and scope of current regulations on surveillance by allowing officers to monitor conversations real-time and use high-tech software to give more tools to law enforcement.
At the same time, one of the two bills will require law enforcement agencies to obtain a warrant through a special court prior to monitoring any citizen.
This would render unauthorised surveillance basically unconstitutional and useless in a court of law, while some MP’s had requested that authorities be obligated to notify targets whenever possible or when state security issues are not at play.
The new legislation also would require police requests to be backed up by a detailed report with substantial evidence, providing a compelling description of facts and describing the manner by which the surveillance will be conducted.
All surveillance requests must have a specific target, naming the individual and providing in writing his or her identity. Random surveilance will be outlawed by passing the new legislation.
This provision came about following a recent global scandal involving many governments, where powerful software technically enabled law enforcement to “fish for information and suspects” with sweeping tools and going after a case without first establishing reasonable suspicion.
The House committee has been debating the issue, including risks of potential abuse, with the final drafts providing for only authorised law enforcement and intelligence officers who will have specific permission for a limited period of time.
Passenger list still a thorny issue
A thorny issue also focused on a “passenger list” where law enforcement officials can have wide access to information based on a number of criteria and parameters depending on a case under investigation.
The chair of the committee, ruling party Disy MP Georgios Georgiou, said there are provisions in the bill that would help narrow a group of suspects by targeting "fewer innocent" travelers.
According to Georgiou, the bill makes clear that checks and balances in the new legislation will provide only for solving or preventing serious crimes as well as making sure that state security is not compromised.
A special three-member watchdog committee will monitor activity to ensure officers adhere to the letter of the law. The members will be appointed by the President’s Cabinet.
A full House session is expected to take on the two bills in late November. [Kathimerini Cyprus]