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The front page story in the last SUNDAY SUN puts another perspective into the mix of the wiretapping story.
Former Commissioner of Police Darwin Dottin says that wiretapping has been going on since 1991 and that all Prime Ministers and Opposition Leaders knew about it. I dare say that it continues up to this day with the knowledge and consent of the political hierarchy.
This raises questions about former Prime Minister Owen Arthur’s statement in Parliament. He said he never authorised any such surveillance and expressed shock it was happening. This does not square with Dottin’s assertions, which suggest that Arthur had knowledge before he ever became Prime Minister, during the period his administration was in office and while he was again Leader of the Opposition.
The question would be whether a Prime Minister should be involved in authorising specific instances of wiretapping. I think that should be an operational decision by the police.
Obviously, this is a sensitive subject that ought not to be politicised. We can all agree that the police need this capability and must trust that our political directorate, law enforcement professionals and higher authorities would not abuse the system.
In my opinion, there should be a special committee of trusted senior officers set up within the police force to manage the day-to-day decisions regarding who should be targeted for surveillance and to constantly review the process to ensure it is fair. Unfortunately, it can never be transparent, at least not to the public.
Additionally, I believe the Police Service Commission (PSC) should be completely outside of political interference. By this I mean that the members should be appointed by the Governor General on the advice of the judiciary and the Bar Association, but not any politicians.
Only in that context should the PSC be empowered to oversee the electronic surveillance activities of the police and report to the Governor General, who would brief the Prime Minister and Opposition Leader should any matter of grave concern arise.
In this instant case, I am uncomfortable with the way the matter has been handled by the current administration, including the PSC because it has been too politicised. The current chairman of the PSC is a political appointee who spoke on the Democratic Labour Party (DLP) platform in the 2008 general election campaign. Furthermore, he was a junior to the former commissioner before being appointed to the post of PSC chairman.
In addition, the DLP seems intent on using this issue as part of its campaign strategy to attack the Opposition. In my opinion, it would be unseemly for such a sensitive national security issue to be dragged across the campaign trail. Such action can potentially have a very damaging long-term impact on the intelligence-gathering activities of the police to thwart criminals and others that may wish to harm our society.
It really would be much better if the entire electronic surveillance process be totally independent of politics and politicians.
– DAVID BRATHWAITE