GBHRA president Queen Counsel Fred Smith said that while accepting that effective law enforcement requires modern surveillance capacities, in its current form, the legislation “ is extreme, draconian and will lead to a situation in which nobody’s intimate life will be free from scrutiny anymore.”
He said that in order to strike a balance between law enforcement and civil liberties, there must be “deliberate consultation, thought … proper time for people to consider it, to look at what legislation has been proposed in other jurisdictions, how its working in other countries, to what extent it has or has not been abused.
“Civil society, the Bench, the Bar, our Members of Parliament, everybody needs to have an opportunity to be engaged in this process of considering this piece of legislation, which is going to change the Bahamas forever,” Smith said.
But Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs, Allyson Maynard Gibson, has defended the introduction of the ICB, saying “is a very important tool in the fight against crime”.
She said the legislation was necessary in the fight against crime much of which “is gang related, transnational and involving guns and drugs.
“Experts advise that without this crime fighting tool, drug trafficking, gun trafficking and other transnational and gang related crimes will increase and the police will be hampered in their ability to detect and investigate these crime and prosecute the criminals.”
She said that the Bahamas is joining the worldwide community, including the United States, the United Kingdom, St. Lucia, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago and most recently St. Kitts- Nevis to enact similar legislation permitting the lawful interception of communications.
But Smith is calling on the Perry Christie government to desist from its current effort to rush the legislation, referred to here as the “Spying Bill” Bill through parliament without public consultation or information sharing.
He is warning that there’s great potential for abuse of the law, particularly in light of the recent illegal attacks by the current regime on civil society actors.
“The worst part of this Act is that it includes the word ‘subversion’. Subversion is nothing more than political dissent. Political dissent is anybody who doesn’t agree with the current government.
“So they will accuse anybody who doesn’t toe the line, who doesn’t just agree with everything that every politician is going to say or do, or whatever the government proposes, as being a subversive. As being a destabilizer, as a person who is trying to bring the government down.”
The non-government organisation, the Organization for Responsible Governance (ORG) has also called on the government to re-think its position on the legislation.
It said said it “finds it problematic that a bill of such dire implications was introduced so quietly to Parliament, without being made available for viewing or consultation from the public and other stakeholders.
“Similar bills around the world have gone through open development phases in which the government solicits input from the public, consults with experts and openly conducts the appropriate investigations and research to develop a bill that best serves both the people and the security of the nation,” the ORG added.
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