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Fadlallah scolds U.S. for telecoms request

Lebanese lawmaker Hasan Fadlallah speaks during a press conference at the Parliament in Beirut, Lebanon, Wednesday, Nov. 23, 2011. (Mohammad Azakir/The Daily Star)

BEIRUT: Foreign telecom companies need to go through the proper diplomatic channels to receive Lebanese government approval to install a network in the country, Hezbollah MP Hasan Fadlallah said Tuesday.

Following a meeting of the Parliament’s Media and Telecommunications Committee, Fadlallah, who chairs the committee, said that lawmakers need to discuss a request sent by an American company to the Telecommunications Ministry before making any decision.

“Procedures require [companies] to request permission from the Foreign Affairs Ministry through their embassies,” said Fadlallah, who confirmed that a request was made by an American company through different channels.

The meeting at Parliament was boycotted by the March 14 coalition.

Fadlallah’s comments came days after As-Safir newspaper reported on the American request for a permit to build a large telecoms station in Lebanon.

Sources at the Telecommunications Ministry told The Daily Star that a company that works with the United States government has asked the ministry to install a Mobile VSAT station near the southern coast to be used by the U.S. Embassy in Lebanon.

Although the U.S. Embassy has denied the media reports, Telecommunications Ministry officials reiterated Tuesday the presence of such a request at the ministry, according to Fadlallah.

The Daily Star tried to contact embassy officials Tuesday, but they were not available for comment.

In a news conference at Parliament, Fadlallah said there are a number of questions that need to be answered before any official decision is taken.

“What is the mission of this station? What are its tasks? What are its dangers?” said Fadlallah.

“There is an appetite for the country’s telecoms sector,” he added.

The Hezbollah MP said that he was briefed by a number of Telecommunications Ministry officials on the American company’s request during the committee’s meeting but added that more questions would need to be answered in the upcoming session.

“This issue will be discussed fully in the upcoming session, which will probably take place next Thursday in the presence of the telecommunications minister and after we receive the answers from the ministry’s officials,” Fadlallah said.

The Bint Jbeil MP also said that the U.S. Embassy might have received a number of permits for installing telecoms stations from the Lebanese government in 2005 after the withdrawal of the Syrian army from Lebanon.

“We asked the ministry today to provide us with all documents related to the request and all previous similar requests that were made,” he said.

Fadlallah said that he has seen part of the letters that were exchanged between the ministry and the American company on the establishment of such a station in Lebanon. “I think the government is keen on implementing the law in this matter.”

Commenting on the government’s recent standoff with the Internal Security Forces over its request to have full access to the mobile networks’ SMS, Fadlallah said that the ISF backed down because its officials realized the demand was unrealistic.

“What the government and the Telecommunications Ministry did was good when they rejected the request and those who made the request backed down because they realized that such a thing cannot pass in Lebanon since it violates the privacy of all Lebanese.”

Earlier this month, March 14 submitted a draft proposal to Parliament to grant the ISF Information Branch access to the contents of SMS data.

Officials at the ISF argue that the investigation into the assassination of senior security chief Brig. Gen. Wissam al-Hasan requires a look into the country’s SMS data in the weeks before the assassination.

“Unfortunately, our colleagues [March 14] who submitted the proposal did not attend the session and they obstructed the discussion of the proposal,” said Fadlallah.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on December 19, 2012, on page 3.

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