Minnis: Spy bill must not stand
Published: Feb 21, 2017
Opposition to the Interception of Communications Bill 2017 is growing.
Yesterday, Free National Movement (FNM) Leader Dr. Hubert Minnis said the bill poses dangers and should be rejected.
Minnis said in a Facebook post: “On Wednesday in Parliament, the government intends to push through their Interception of Communications Bill (ICB) 2017.
“This piece of legislation, which has been rushed and rammed down the throats of the Bahamian people, should not be allowed to stand. It is a breach of the privacy of the public at large, and it is our fear that this bill has more to do with blocking any opposition to this corrupt government, than being a useful crime fighting tool.
“The government can say all it wants, but the simple fact of the matter is that we do not trust them. The Bahamian people do not trust this PLP government.
“To have this piece of legislation, with the dangers it poses to the country at large, being rushed at this late stage before a general election raises more questions about the true motive of this bill.
“It is unacceptable for an administration that took five years to bring forth a Freedom of Information Act to attempt to rush a bill of this magnitude without any form of consultation with the Bahamian people.”
Last week, Attorney General Allyson Maynard-Gibson said the proposed legislation is a very important tool in the fight against crime, much of which is gang-related, transnational and involves guns and drugs.
Maynard-Gibson said: “Experts advise that without this crime fighting tool, drug trafficking, gun trafficking and other transnational and gang-related crime will increase, and the police will be hampered in their ability to detect and investigate crime and prosecute criminals.”
She said The Bahamas would join the worldwide community – including the United States, the United Kingdom, Saint Lucia, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago and most recently St. Kitts & Nevis – in enacting similar legislation permitting the lawful interception of communications.
“We, like they, are determined to combat the serious criminal and security threats facing our nations,” the attorney general said.
She added that the bill enhances protection of the privacy of law-abiding citizens because it is the Supreme Court (not the executive) that makes the determination that communications may be intercepted.
“This is the first time that Bahamian law places this authority solely in the hands of the independent judiciary.
“The Supreme Court will ensure that adequate checks and balances are in place to protect rights of privacy on the one hand and combat crime (including cyber crime) on the other. Any suggestion that this is a ‘dangerous spying bill’ is false.”
Her statement came after Grand Bahama Human Rights Association (GBHRA) President Fred Smith said some civil rights organizations are working to form an alliance to oppose the bill, which he called “extreme and unnecessary”, and which he insisted is a “spy” bill.
The Organization for Responsible Governance (ORG) also has concerns.
It said the “quiet” tabling of the bill in the House of Assembly two weeks ago was deeply worrying, not only for its contentious content, but also for the manner in which it was introduced.
ORG said, “Openness, transparency, and freedom of association and expression are all cornerstones of a liberal democracy, and the process thus far has bucked these values.
“We urge the members of Parliament to stay this bill until all stakeholders can be educated on the contents of the bill and give appropriate feedback.”
And We March — the group which led two marches through downtown Nassau in November and January to demand accountability from the government — is also opposing the bill, which it claimed would allow the attorney general to determine who can be spied on, not the commissioner of police.
“We see now where the PLP wants to take this country,” We March said in a Facebook post.
“Will the FNM, DNA or UPM repeal this bill if elected? Ask your candidates publicly so we know who not to replace these Animal Farm characters with.
“Once passed, this will be our last march to protest anything in The Bahamas.”
In her recent statement, the attorney general said the bill “will enable the police, with the permission of a Supreme Court judge, to lawfully intercept electronic communication of any kind, once certain clearly defined conditions are fulfilled.