BEIRUT: Interior Minister Marwan Charbel inaugurated a wiretapping command center aimed at strengthening national security in Lebanon, while assuring the public that it would not infringe on civil liberties.
“We inaugurate the phone call interception command center today and it will play the role of the invisible eye in the fight against criminals and terrorists,” Charbel told reporters during the launch ceremony at the Telecommunications Ministry in Beirut Saturday.
Charbel said that the command center “will preserve the privacy of Lebanese and respect them because its job is only to serve security and justice,” adding that the center’s technology lets security bodies track criminals.
Charbel denied that the army or any Internal Security Forces personnel outside the command room are in possession of wiretapping devices.
“No one is allowed to intercept phone calls unless it is through this room,” he added.
In attendance were Telecommunications Minister Nicolas Sehnaoui, Justice Minister Shakib Qortbawi, State Prosecutor Saeed Mirza, the director general of the Internal Security Forces Maj. Gen. Ashraf Rifi, head of the General Security apparatus Abbas Ibrahim, a representative of Lebanese Army commander Gen. Jean Kahwagi and a host of security figures.
For his part, Qortbawi said that there is no security and freedom without law. “And without [law], the state of law does not exist and everything becomes exposed to danger in the absence of independent justice and the implementation of law.”
Qortbawi assured the public that the center would operate in line with law.
“Legal wiretapping is designed to fight crime and help preserve national security,” Qortbawi said, while expressing his hope that all other wiretapping in the country would be eliminated.
Sehnaoui said that the room was established as a result of a joint effort of the interior and telecommunications ministries.
Sehnaoui said the Telecommunications Ministry had fully equipped the control room, and he praised the work of his predecessors.
The center is manned by personnel from the Defense, Interior and Telecommunications ministries as well as General Security and operates according to a procedure established under law 140.
According to the law, officials from the Internal Security Forces forward their demand to wiretap one or several phones to the general prosecutor, providing a justification for the request.
If convinced, the general prosecutor forwards the demand to the Interior Ministry which in turn forwards it to the prime minister who asks the Telecommunications Ministry to execute the demand.
If the request involves telephone conversations between two individuals, it is forwarded by the Telecommunications Ministry to OGERO and in case it had to do with large quantities of telecommunications data on many users, the demand is referred to Alfa or mtc touch, the two companies operating cellular networks on behalf of the government.
Prior to the implementation of the procedure, officials from the Internal Security Forces used to directly contact the Telecommunications Ministry for wiretapping purposes.