Speaking to reporters at the TT Legion of Royal Commonwealth Ex-Services League, Barataria, Persad-Bissessar was asked if TSTT was involved in assisting or facilitating wiretapping. Her response was “yes”.
She recalled a time when it was said “use a Digicel phone don’t use a TSTT phone. They were right because the facilities there were being utilised (for wiretapping).”
According to Persad-Bissessar, TSTT was “commanded to do so and I am told that thereafter Digicel was also commanded so to do to allow the facilities to be used.”
Asked if national security was the reason given in directing the companies to become involved in the wiretapping, she said, “well I would suspect that is what they told them.”
Penny Gomez, communications manager for Digicel, issued a brief statement when contacted for comment.
She said, “Digicel feels it would be inappropriate and irresponsible to comment on the matter in light of the fact that investigations are still ongoing. We wish to respect the process.” A comment was not available from TSTT yesterday.
Persad-Bissessar disclosed that “no criminal offence” may have been committed when the Security Intelligence Agency (SIA) was involved in wiretapping of several public and private citizens including herself. However, she said a case may be made for misuse of public funds and misconduct in public office.
“There is no criminal offence of wiretapping as far as I am aware, I may be wrong, of wiretapping in terms of criminal offence. There may be constitutional issues, not necessarily a criminal offence, so the criminality in my respectful view will come from misuse of public funds, misconduct in public office and offences of that nature.”
Last Friday in the House of Representatives Persad-Bissessar tabled the Interception of Communications Bill which will regulate wiretapping.
She revealed a list of several persons whose phones were wiretapped by the SIA, including President George Maxwell Richards.
Asked what legal recourse persons had in the absence of legislation against illegal wiretapping, she said, “the Director of Public Prosecutions will have to look to see if State funds were being used for an illegal activity, whether there would be misconduct in public office issues like that, criminal offences from the misuse of State funds not authorised.”
She said illegal wiretapping should not have been among the functions of the SIA.
Persad-Bissessar could not say how many persons were victims of the illegal wiretapping or even if criminals were being monitored. She said the investigation was ongoing and it would take some time to identify the persons in the database and “match the numbers with names.” She said the persons whose names were called in Parliament were those in “public life” and the Government would not go the route of revealing the names of private citizens.
“The better course may be that when we complete those investigations that we may use them if they wish to disclose it, that is their privacy but I would not want to further invade their privacy by calling their names.” She said private citizens will be personally advised if their phones were tapped and they could choose to make this public. The Prime Minister said the State had to consider this carefully “in terms of opening the State to a floodgate (of litigation)”.
Persad-Bissessar said she could not comment on whether former Prime Minister Patrick Manning and National Security Minister Martin Joseph would be questioned.
“It is the hard evidence we are collecting at this point in time. That will go to the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) and the DPP will be in charge of the investigation in that regard in terms of suspects.”
Commenting on the possibility of lawsuits, Persad-Bissessar said she did not want to give a judgement but acknowledged that “the State” and individuals could also be sued. Although there may be “certain immunities” attached to particular positions, she believed that persons acting outside the law could be held accountable.
“I don’t believe individuals who may have broken the law are protected from being personally sued.”
Responding to Manning’s comment that he was unaware of illegal wiretapping, Persad-Bissessar said this was very surprising, “totally incredible” considering that the information indicated that the unit reported directly to the head of the National Security Council (a post Manning held.)
“He is saying he is unaware in one breath then he is saying we know it was illegal but were going to see how it worked before we legalised it.”