Surveillance upgrades at the central prison are not to follow conversations but to track cell phones being used to attempt to make illegal calls, Justice Minister Stefi Drakou said on Thursday.

“The reports purporting to show that I promote the surveillance of communication content within the prison instead of the disabling and tracking of cell phones are not true at all,” Drakou said stressing there was never an issue of backing a surveillance upgrade rather than a 5G jamming upgrade.

A series of leaked mails have shown that the justice ministry was pursuing surveillance upgrades for the prison software currently in place entailing the recording of a device’s unique code (IMEI), the sim card’s identity (IMSI), the date and time of a call and its geographic coordinates – a phone call’s metadata in other words.

At the same time, it was reported that the prisons department for more than a year was making efforts to get the relevant state authorities to move forward with an upgrade enabling the jamming of 5G network cell phones. The prison software contract is set to expire on July 20.

Asked about the seeming delay, Transport Minister Yiannis Karousos had declined to give any comments citing confidentiality reasons.

Speculation then arose that authorities were actually seeking a surveillance upgrade rather than an upgrade to jam the use of mobiles, reasoning that, instead of making it harder to control phone usage it is preferable to keep the jamming capabilities as they are but introduce surveillance as a way of keeping an eye on things.

The prison director has so far failed to follow the justice ministry’s direction on moving forward with the surveillance upgrade, considering it illegal giving rise to further speculation as to the capabilities of the surveillance upgrade and its knock-on effects on privacy.

“Our actions are aimed at harmonising with the technological developments that are constantly being reshaped… in this context we decided to upgrade the system so that its jamming capabilities cover frequencies [5G] that did not exist during the implementation of the original contract,” Drakou said.

“Then, in the presence of the Prisons Directorate, it was decided to activate the existing system’s capabilities further, in a way that when the illegal use of a mobile phone within the prisons is attempted, the identity of the phone and its location are recorded with a view to its immediate detection and seizure”.

Meanwhile Karousos told daily Phileleftheros the electromechanical department has done what it should have regarding cell phone jamming in the prison and that criticism levelled against it is unwarranted.

The minister further added that in one or two months the software will be upgraded to include 5G network cell phones, and that the contract is being fulfilled on time.