A new bill giving the police new powers to wiretap phone calls is a risk to established attorney-client confidentiality, warned Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar at a media conference on Friday in the Red House, Port of Spain.
She said journalists and their sources are also threatened by the Interception of Communication (Amendment) Bill 2020 which updates a 2010 law.
Among other things, the bill allows wiretapping at places deemed prisons, including police station cells, detention centres and rehabilitation centres (as defined under the Children’s Community Residences, Foster Care and Nurseries Act.)
“The interference with the right to the confidence of privileged communications with one’s lawyer seriously undermines the rule of law, and the removal of legal professional privilege takes us down a dictatorial and draconian state,” Persad-Bissessar said.
“There is a long-standing public interest factor in the maintaining and protecting the long-established right to legal professional privilege, a fundamental human right long established in the common law.”
She said the bill also widens the use of intercepted information from the use in criminal matters in the parent bill to now include any proceeding such as a civil lawsuit or a tribunal proceedings. “Where the State can now intercept communication, they are now at a superior advantage compared to the ordinary litigant.”
Persad-Bissessar said, “The media will be severely impacted. Confidential media sources will be impacted upon. That is big brother really watching you.”
She noted the bill coming after National Security Minister Stuart Young's claims that Opposition politicians were talking to criminals, a claim she said was denied by the police. "It is too much, coming now on the eve of an election. This is a way now to try to incriminate and intimidate."
Persad-Bissessar lamented the bill’s measures were retroactive, in sharp contrast to the 2010 Act being merely prospective, that is forward-looking. “This is against the grain of the law.”
Pointe-a-Pierre MP David Lee told Newsday the Opposition was upset at being belatedly notified of this very important bill which infringes on key civil rights. “The Opposition has just six days to prepare for this bill which infringes on the constitutional rights of everyone in TT.”