Cyprus Mail

‘Government did not know of spy tech capabilities’ (updated)

Government spokesman Nicos Christodoulides

By Angelos Anastasiou

Opposition parties on Tuesday protested the acquiring of monitoring software that could be used for domestic surveillance by the Cypriot intelligence service (KYP), while the government denied knowing it had such capability when it approved its purchase.

“What was decided by the cabinet in November 2013 was [merely] approval to buy the software,” government spokesman Nicos Christodoulides said on Tuesday.

“In any case, as [resigned KYP boss] Mr Pentaras has said publicly, the agency’s equipment is utilised only for purposes of national security. And we have all witnessed specific results, both in the near and distant past.”

Asked whether Anastasiades issued assurances to the National Council that privacy has not been infringed, Christodoulides said yes, adding that the government considers this issue of the utmost importance.

“It is this government that tabled a bill on this matter,” he said.

“We hope that the bill will be passed as soon as possible, once parliament is back in session after the summer holidays.”

At a National Council meeting on Tuesday, President Nicos Anastasiades informed party leaders on how the software came to be authorised by the government after a request by KYP.

DISY deputy Nicos Tornaritis said it’s hardly news that KYP engages in surveillance, but conceded that the agency has no right to infringe on citizens’ right to privacy.

“Even [German chancellor Angela] Merkel has publicly stated that she is being monitored by secret agencies,” he said.

“There is a legislative proposal that strengthens KYP’s accountability, and we will put it to a vote at the first or second plenary session, in September. Naturally I agree that it has no right to eavesdrop on party meetings, discussions, events or citizen gatherings. Its role is completely different.”

AKEL leader Andros Kyprianou said the party has been duly discreet in commenting on the matter, but attacked DISY for postponing the vote on the KYP bill.

“If there was a law, oversight could have been easier and more effective,” Kyprianou said.

DIKO leader Nicolas Papadopoulos said matters relating to the intelligence-gathering service should not be discussed publicly as they touch on matters of national security.

“KYP has a crucial role to play,” he said.

“We are still under occupation and the need for data-gathering is imperative, but arbitrariness cannot be tolerated. KYP has to operate within effective guidelines and rules.”

EDEK leader Marinos Sizopoulos said the private lives of political or other individuals should not be monitored, but conceded the state’s right to activities to neutralise terrorist threats.

“On our part we have no concerns, we do not engage in illegal activities, and what we say in public we also say on the phone,” he said.

“But basic human values and citizens’ rights cannot be violated.”

House Speaker Yiannakis Omirou said that, while the government had been aware of the software’s purchase, it failed to afford it due consideration.

“It is inconceivable that the capability to eavesdrop on citizens could exist in a democratic country,” Omirou said.

“I’m not saying I have any evidence that it happened, I’m just saying this software could be used for such a purpose.”

The Greens’ leader Yiorgos Perdikis said Anastasiades claimed to have been “informed in broad strokes of the software’s capabilities, not going into detail”.

“He assured us that there have been no infringement of personal privacy, but we have concerns just hearing about these systems’ capabilities,” he said.

“None of us is safe, and there is no safe flow of information, anywhere, on any level.”

Citizens’ Alliance leader Giorgos Lillikas said he shared some evidence with Anastasiades, and argued in favour of legislation to prevent abuse.

EVROKO leader Demetris Syllouris said the KYP bill vote should not have been postponed, as it would have afforded adequate oversight, both in operational and political levels.

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