Cyprus Mail

President sends surveillance bill back to parliament (Updated)

By George Psyllides

After President Nicos Anastasiades refused to sign it into law, parliament on Wednesday amended a bill that allows the authorities — after 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.

Anastasiades had sent the bill back because of an amendment included by main opposition AKEL that required the authorities to notify the person of interest within 30 days after the execution of the court order.

Parties unanimously agreed to amend the offending clause, and afford a court the power to postpone the notification date if it judged that the need to protect the investigation made this necessary.

It was also clarified that the term ‘suspect’ concerned the individual under investigation and not all other persons they came to contact with.

In his letter to parliament, the president said he objected to the inclusion of the clause compelling the attorney-general to send a report to the person of interest within 30 days of the order’s execution, notifying them about the order, the date it was issued and the period of time for which access had been authorised.

The AG is also obliged to inform the subject whether their communications had been accessed during that period.

The amendment further says that a court can order the release to the subject or their lawyer, of excerpts of the private communications that had been accessed by the authorities.

These provisions should be removed, the president said.

“It is my position that the person … is informed either through the execution of the order or later in court, with the submission of a criminal case against them, where all the collected evidence will be handed over,” Anastasiades said.

The president cites European Court of Human Rights decisions to support his arguments.

In one such decision, the ECHR said that it was not always necessary to inform the individual as long as it is justified, for example, by the need to protect the investigation.

The ECHR went on to say that “in the opinion of the court, it has to be ascertained whether it is feasible in practice to require subsequent notification in all cases. The activity or danger against which a particular series of surveillance measures is directed may continue for years, even decades, after the suspensions of these measures. Subsequent notification to each individual affected by the suspended measure might well jeopardise the long-term purpose that originally prompted the surveillance.”

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