By Elias Hazou
BY a narrow majority the House on Thursday passed a government bill allowing the court-ordered lifting of communications privacy, considered a crucial toolkit for police investigating financial crimes.
The bill went through by 28 votes in favour, primarily from the ruling DISY party with some support from DIKO, with all of the AKEL MPs voting against.
The new law allows police, after requesting and securing a court order, to monitor and gather written electronic communications of suspects.
These include emails, as well as messages on Viber, Skype, Whatsapp and Facebook.
Requests for access to a person’s communications will be made to a district court, and the judge will review the request and issue a wiretap order, inserting conditions for the surveillance as he or she deems necessary.
State’s attorneys will sign off on the surveillance orders.
Crucially, the bill has retroactive force, meaning that police may submit in court data generated in the past.
It is expected this will aid law enforcement to bring prosecutions in particular regarding an ongoing probe into the 2013 financial meltdown.
Under an amendment introduced by AKEL, the lifting of communications privacy is valid for a period of 30 days. In the event authorities have not completed their investigation during this time, surveillance may be extended twice, for a total period of 90 days.
Three months after the court order has been executed, the person concerned will be informed that his or her communications were being monitored.
Wiretap orders will explicitly name the persons executing the warrant, so that they are liable in case of abuse.
It has been reported that during the course of investigations police have gained access to a number of emails denoting connections between Cypriot nationals and Focus Maritime Corporation, owned by Greek ship-owner Michalis Zolotas.
Focus is said to have been a go-between for the funnelling of ‘contributions’ to political parties in Cyprus. Zolotas is a close associate of former Laiki Bank boss Andreas Vgenopoulos, whom many here blame for the crash of the banking sector, which precipitated the economic collapse.
The new law allows these emails, and similar evidence, to be submitted as evidence in a court of law.