At the same time, however, the Prime Minister declined to say whether or not she was of the view that criminal charges could result, stating that the matter was within the remit of the DPP who must, under the Constitution, be given the space to act independently.
“That report, when we compile it, will go to the DPP,” Persad-Bissessar said after delivering the feature address at an information and communications technology (ICT) conference at the Hyatt Regency, Port-of-Spain.
Of the fate of the 200 employees who worked at the SIA which was shut down after a raid in October, Persad-Bissessar said, “the police will have to investigate where there is wrongdoing and the law will take its course.”
Some lawyers – including Hendrickson Seunath SC – have argued that the matter could result in criminal charges. But when asked if she shared this view yesterday, Persad-Bissessar said, “Those will be decisions of the DPP. I cannot prejudge and compromise a decision to be made by an independent legal officer.”
The Prime Minister’s comments came two days after Attorney General Anand Ramlogan said he would consider whether or not to refer the matter to the DPP in the wake of last week’s revelations over the SIA’s spying of citizens such as President George Maxwell Richards and a former Chief Justice.
Persad-Bissessar said the Cabinet would consider getting international assistance in relation to the investigation.
The Prime Minister also said the Cabinet would consider calls for a Commission of Inquiry (COI) and for a parliamentary Joint Select Committee (JSC) in relation to the SIA, but noted that the sensitive nature of the inquiry could militate against public hearings.
“There was a call for a JSC and there was a call for a COI. In fact, it is something we will have to give careful consideration to because there are issues of national security involved,” she said. The Prime Minister also said the Cabinet would consider a mechanism to allow concerned citizens to know if they have been spied on.
“People are very concerned,” she said. “Certainly we can give consideration to such a request I will have to put it to Cabinet and get some decision from them. It is a proposal at this point in time and I do believe it is important to let the persons know if they were tapped on a private basis.” She explained that there was not a single “spy list” but rather a database.
“We have to match names next to numbers. It’s a database. That process will take some time. Should we disclose those names? It was my respectful view – but I am open to suggestion – that we should not publically disclose those names but we should advise the individual concerned and that person can then decide whether they want to disclose it.
“There is also the issue of legal action which we will have to consider and therefore we will seek to listen to comments and try to do what is best for all in Trinidad and Tobago,” she added.
In relation to the restructuring of another intelligence unit under the Ministry of National Security, the Special Anti-Crime Unit of Trinidad and Tobago (SAUTT), the Prime Minister said a review of SAUTT will be completed by December and a report submitted. Last Friday, Persad-Bissessar announced that SAUTT is to be stripped of its wiretapping functions.
Speaking at the conference, the Prime Minister announced that in addition to the Interception of Communications Bill, the Government will this year table two other pieces of legislation to deal with protecting the privacy of citizens in relation to communications technology.
The Data Protection and Privacy Bill and the Electronic Transaction Bill are presently before the Cabinet she said. “We intend to have both laid in Parliament before the end of this year,” she said.
The Electronic Transaction Bill will regulate online forms and online signatures and the Data Protection and Privacy Bill will deal with the rights of citizens to privacy. Debate on the Interception of Communications Bill will begin on Friday, Persad-Bissessar also said.
Persad-Bissessar once more noted she has no problem with the regulated use of interception for reasons of national security, but there must be a clear regulatory framework.
“To allow us to use interception for the fight against crime and it can only be done with a Judge,” she said.
Of the police investigation into the SIA, she said the investigation was ongoing.
“I think they are putting things in place to have a forensic audit because of that amount of cash that was found...because there was no paperwork to support it,” she said. She recapped how she got a tip about the SIA in October.
“The first time I got the information, somebody called to tell us, or I got the text, and I asked for this to be checked out that there was a meeting taking place between certain people where a request was being made for transcripts and tapes from that particular unit,” she said. “When I got that information I ‘actioned’ (sic) the Special Branch. I spoke with the CoP and it was reported back to me by the Branch that such a meeting was taking place as the source had indicated.
“It was only when we were advised on the evening of October 22 that there appeared to have been some attempts to sanitise what was happening in there that the CoP undertook the operation that he did on the morning and shut down the place,” she revealed.
“From the time they went in on the 23rd, my instruction was to shut it down and it was shut down,” she said. She denied knowing about the practice of wiretapping at the SIA and said she could not say when the SIA was formed.
“No one in any meeting ever said a single word about phones being tapped. There was a deafening silence on that issue,” she said.