Parliament on Friday approved a bill granting authorities the ability to conduct phone surveillance as part of crime-fighting and counter-terrorism efforts.
The bill was approved by majority vote. Twenty-seven MPs from ruling Disy, Diko, Citizens’ Alliance, and Solidarity, voted in favour while three deputies opposed the bill. Akel’s and Edek’s 19 MPs abstained.
Two amendments tabled by Edek MP Costis Efstathiou designed to restrict abuse of the capability and banning surveillance of communications between a lawyer and their client were approved by 32 votes against 18.
Allowing phone surveillance had been a long-standing demand by crime fighters.
Current legislation allows the authorities to monitor and gather the written electronic communications of persons of interest, including emails, and messages on Viber, Skype, WhatsApp and Facebook.
The bill provides for a request to be put to court asking for an order allowing surveillance. The request will be made by the attorney-general who would have received a written application from the police or the secret service containing a report of the situation, the identity of the person and the duration of the wiretap.
The surveillance will be carried out by authorised members of the police or the secret service.
The bill contained safeguards that would ensure surveillance would only be conducted in a bid to clear or prevent serious crimes or because it is dictated by national security.
During the discussion that preceded the vote, Disy MP Giorgos Georgiou described the bill as a radical change to the means of fighting organised crime.
He said the checks included ensured no abuses would take place.
Georgiou said the changes would let the police investigate crimes that were impossible to solve at present.
He suggested that no match-fixing cases have been resolved because the police cannot carry out phone surveillance, noting that organised crime possessed much better means compared with what the police had.
Georgiou struck a note of caution however, that it would take time to stamp out organised crime effectively, even with the new capability.
Akel MP Aristos Damianou said despite opposing the bill in principle, his party took part in its discussion and managed to include amendments to safeguard against abuse.
Damianou suggested that authorities would have no excuse now for the inadequacy and corruption of some of their members.
Diko MP Christiana Erotokritou said the law included draconian penalties for those who abused it; 10 years imprisonment and or a €10,000 fine for any member of the police or the secret service violating the terms.
Edek’s Efstathiou said his party opposed the bill because it allowed for authorised personnel to carry out surveillance.
It also allowed surveillance of unknown individuals and the government would have to monitor someone at the request of a foreign state. This, he said, was dangerous when members of liberation movements were branded criminals and terrorists.