Former prime minister Owen Arthur has brushed aside allegations that between 2000-9 personal telephones in Barbados and Internet communications were intercepted by the government.
Speaking in Parliament on the Telecommunications (Amendment) Bill 2017, Owen, who served as prime minister from 1994 to 2008, said his Barbados Labour Party (BLP) administration had never sanctioned any illegal wiretapping during the period.
Earlier, Finance Minister Chris Sinckler, who sought to make it clear that he was not accusing the Arthur-led administration of authorizing or knowing about the wiretapping, said “ that sometime between 2000 and 2009 personal telephones in Barbados and Internet communications … were intercepted under the last Government”.
Sinckler, who said there was an affidavit supporting his claim, added “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 election is called.
“I always felt my phone was tapped when I was talking to the then Leader of the Opposition and President of the Democratic Labour Party [David Thompson],” he said, adding that the phones and computer communications of many others were intercepted.
“There are files with those conversations being kept somewhere in somebody’s house. Those intercepted conversations and Internet email. When these matters are dispensed, a full and complete investigation ought to be done to find out who it is that was empowering certain people to tap phones in Barbados,”.
Sinckler said there were unnamed persons, who he said had illegally recorded phone calls and Internet transmissions of public officials and private individuals during the tenure of the last BLP government, were waiting “in the wings” for the call of elections to continue their “dastardly” acts.
Arthur told legislators that that as far as he was aware, the Royal Barbados Police Force from time to time 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.
“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,” said Arthur.
Opposition legislator, Santia Bradshaw, said the ruling party had 10 years in office in which to investigate such claims and was now raising the matter on the eve of elections.
But, Prime Minister Freundel Stuart said his administration was moving to table legislation permitting law enforcement authorities to tap into private phones and Internet communications of Barbadians to halt illegal activity or catch lawbreakers.
He told legislators, nonetheless that he wanted to assure citizens 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.
Stuart 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.
“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.
“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”.
But Prime Minister Stuart, who is expected to name a date for the general elections here later this year, said “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”.