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INDECOM wants access to telephone data to assist probes

Published:Thursday | July 17, 2014 | 12:00 AM

Edmond Campbell, Senior Staff Reporter

Justice Minister Senator Mark Golding has thrown his support behind a recommendation by the Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM) that the investigative and prosecutorial body be given the right to access telecommunications data that would assist in its probes.

"They are investigating the killing of citizens and other less serious abuses; I can't see why we would not want to recommend that this information be made available to them," Golding reasoned during yesterday's meeting of a joint select committee of Parliament examining the INDECOM Act.

While receiving support from his colleague, National Security Minister Peter Bunting on the issue, the justice minister's position was resisted by Government senator Lambert Brown, who warned that the committee should tread carefully on the matter.

But Bunting's backing of the INDECOM recommendation did not just stop with that body as the minister wants another investigative agency within the force to be granted legislative authority to apply for telephone data.

"We may want to look at giving it to the Anti-Corruption Branch and, therefore, if INDECOM needed intercepts of voice communications, they could, through the Anti- Corruption Branch make that request," Bunting suggested.

He told his colleague committee members that any proposed amendment to the Telecoms Act should not be made specific to a particular government body but should be expanded by ministerial order as is necessary.

However, Brown was not convinced that the committee's remit allowed it to trespass on policy issues.

According to Brown, "these issues are above the pay level of the committee" and should be the purview of the Cabinet.

The government senator insisted that he would not be a party to any proposal to grant INDECOM access under the Telecoms Act and the Interception of Communications Act.

Golding, who chairs the committee, clarified that even though both statutes are mentioned in INDECOM's recommendation, the oversight body was only seeking access to telephone data under the Telecoms Act.


Another committee member, opposition spokesman on national security Derrick Smith, expressed discomfort with Bunting's suggestion to widen access by way of an order from the portfolio minister.

"I am not sure if we should simply go with the recommendation from the minister. It is a particularly sensitive area and whereas it would enhance INDECOM's effectiveness, this matter of receiving sensitive and delicate data is a very serious thing and I think we should give it a lot more consideration," he cautioned.

INDECOM Commissioner Terrence Williams said his agency was asking permission to receive the data "so that in an appropriate case, we can know who were the persons making calls to this telephone, and so on, which is of great value in modern investigations."

Williams told the committee that INDECOM had previously approached the police for telephone data. However, he said the police have subsequently taken the decision not to share telecommunications data with the entity.

"It will mean then that we are closed out of using any telephone data that could be had from the provider in our investigations," he added.

At present, the police and the Jamaica Defence Force, as well as the Financial Services Commission, have access to telephone data under the Telecoms Act.