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Anastasiades sends phone-tapping bills back to House

President Nicos Anastasiades

President Nicos Anastasiades has vetoed a phone surveillance law after it was amended by MPs, effectively rendering it unenforceable, it emerged on Monday.

In a letter on Monday, Anastasiades referred the law back to parliament, explaining that two amendments passed by opposition parties cause “insurmountable problems in its enforcement.”

The veto followed the legal opinion of the attorney-general.

The main problem was created by the addition of the words “serious cause” to the standard “probable cause” for a judge to be satisfied and approve a surveillance application by police. The reason Edek MP Costis Efstathiou decided to add “serious cause” was ostensibly to limit abuses of the law.

Efstathiou, a criminal defence lawyer, also added an amendment banning listening into phone conversations between lawyers and clients, thus extending attorney-client privilege to surveillance.

Both amendments were passed with the votes of the opposition parties.

“I think the two amendments cause substantive problems to the enforcement of the law and securing court orders will be difficult based on the law,” the president said in the letter. “…it will be very easy to cancel surveillance orders or even convictions based on evidence secured through private communication surveillance.”

The president added that the ban on attorney-client surveillance was in violation of article 28 of the constitution on equality before the law, since it afforded lawyers more privileges than other citizens.

There will also be practical problems, the president said, in that the person eavesdropping would have to know beforehand if the conversation is between a lawyer and their client, possibly making them liable of illegal surveillance.

Parliament has 15 days to respond on the issue. Parties can either accept the president’s arguments and approve the previous version of the bill or reject them and force Anastasiades to refer the matter to the supreme court where it will probably languish for months.

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