Justice Minister Stephie Drakou on Wednesday hit back at allegations by a Cypriot MEP about surveillance at the Nicosia central prisons, calling them “misinterpretations” and saying the claims were unsubstantiated.
Giorgos Georgiou informed the head of the European parliament on alleged intentions to carry out surveillance at the prisons, pointing to a letter leaked to the press, in which Drakou requests that the prisons department upgrade and use surveillance software rather than just jamming communications.
He said Drakou had orally instructed the prison department to upgrade and fully use the existing software, including by activating automatic surveillance which would record identifying data about phone devices, sim cards, date and time of calls and coordinates.
Drakou responded saying that when the issue was raised in August 2021, a wide-ranging meeting was held, which was attended by ministers, the commissioner for communications, the chief of police and the prisons director.
She said a system for the deactivation of mobile phones was already in operation since the summer of 2020, and any new actions were only focused on harmonising the system with ever-changing technological data.
“In this context, it was decided to upgrade the system so that the deactivation also covers frequencies that did not exist at that stage of implementation,” Drakou said in a written statement.
A contract has already been signed and is in the process of being implemented and is expected to be completed next month, she added.
Then, she said it was decided with the director of prisons “to activate further possibilities provided by the existing system”, in such a way that in case of attempted illegal use of a mobile phone within the central prisons, the identity of the mobile phone and the space where it was located were recorded in order to immediately locate and confiscate it.
On the basis of what was agreed, Drakou said, the minister of transport and communications recorded in a letter the functions of the system that should be activated.
“The publications, which alleges that I promoted the monitoring of communication content instead of just disabling or tracing them, do not correspond in any way to reality,” said Drakou.
“I would also point out that all my actions were taken following an opinion from the attorney-general’s office.”
Drakou said the implementation of the actions that have been decided requires broader coordination, which is why she intends to have a meeting with the prisons director before a final decision is made and before the contract comes into effect.
“In the expressed reservations from the prison management in its letter to me, the opinion of the legal service was requested and received, which includes the opinion of the commissioner for the protection of personal data, as well as of the communications ministry as the contracting authority responsible for the installation of the system,” Drakou said.
“On the basis of the above actions, the necessary system will be installed that will enable the prison management to effectively enforce the law and prison regulations, regarding the use of mobile phones within the prison area.”