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30 May, 2024
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New wiretap law on the skids

Government seeking ways to overcome last minute amendments in new phone tapping law


The president and justice minister are set to meet on Monday to discuss a government phone tapping bill that passed the House on Friday, following concerns that last-minute amendments could be defeating the intended purpose.

Members of parliament in the Republic of Cyprus passed a phone tapping bill on Friday that gives law enforcement more powerful tools in real-time surveillance as part of fighting organized crime and combating terrorism.

While previous legislation allowed police authorities to obtain electronic communications of suspects, including text messages through social media, the new legislation provided for real-time surveillance of suspected criminals and persons of interests.

But a last-minute addition to the bill offered by socialist party Edek essentially meant that police would have a harder time obtaining a warrant for surveillance, thus reducing the chances of successful prosecution of a criminal case in a court of law.

Reports said the amendment added the term 'serious probable cause' next to 'reasonable suspicion' with the justice minister having reservations over the terminology

Reports said the amendment added the term “serious probable cause” next to what was previously stated as “reasonable suspicion” with Justice Minister Yiorgos Savvides issuing a written statement about serious reservations over the terminology.

Savvides, who was expected to meet with President Nicos Anastasiades on Monday, also criticized another provision in the amendment that passed the House, saying a protection of attorney-client privilege was “going too far” and beyond what was considered normal practice.

Critics of the bill voiced concerns regarding abuse of authority, with members of parliament saying the House was tasked with protecting the rights of citizens against corrupt officers or processes that were not based on solid legal grounds.

But proponents of the bill insisted that more protection was necessary to protect citizens and uphold the laws of the Republic, including monitoring criminals or those who may be in the process of possibly committing a crime.

Another concern voiced by critics was a provision in the bill that allowed the surveillance of a citizen based on a request by law enforcement authorities of a foreign government.

Local law enforcement authorities have been criticized for not using tools previously available to them, following the serial killer case last year when officers failed to investigate disappearances of foreign women or go after private communications in suspected kidnapping cases.

Police officials had dismissed some of the criticism, saying parliament rejected a bill that would have allowed unrestricted access to phone records in cases of missing persons.

But according to the penal code in the Republic of Cyprus, police officers could obtain a court warrant for access to telecommunications data if they suspect a crime has been committed, including kidnapping.

An independent probe into police handling of missing complaints in the case was completed last year, with independent investigators naming 23 officers for failing to do their job.

Local reports said the government might consider asking Attorney General Costas Clerides to issue an opinion on the applicability of the new law in matters of law enforcement, without ruling out a referral by the President.

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