Lebanon News

Mikati meets security officials over telecoms data dispute

Ministerial Council. Wednesday, July 11, 2012. (The Daily Star/Dalati Nohra)

BEIRUT: Prime Minister Najib Mikati met Wednesday with several security officials to gain a better understanding of the dispute over making telecommunications data available to security agencies.

Mikati’s meeting comes after the Cabinet appointed the prime minister to head a committee tasked with resolving the dispute between ministers in the Cabinet and the opposition.

Sources close to Mikati told The Daily Star Wednesday that the prime minister was unclear about the importance of the data in investigating crimes, particularly as he has heard opposing arguments on the issue.

The decision to form the committee came after the Cabinet failed Monday to agree by consensus to allow security agencies to obtain data many consider essential for investigating assassination plots against MP Butros Harb and Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea, who was targeted in a sniper attack in April.

The March 14 coalition holds the government responsible for last week’s attempted assassination of Harb because it had withheld telecommunications data necessary for security bodies to uncover such plots.

Meanwhile, the Telecommunications Ministry argues that providing security agencies with the data requires the approval of a judicial committee made up of three top judges formed by the Cabinet to adjudicate such requests.

The committee is a temporary solution until the government amends Law 99/140 and establishes a mechanism to regulate the newly inaugurated wiretapping command center.

During the Cabinet session Monday, which lasted well into the night, ministers from the the Free Patriotic Movement’s Change and Reform bloc and its ally Hezbollah expressed their opposition to granting security agencies access to the data. Mikati along with President Michel Sleiman and ministers with the National Struggle Front of Walid Jumblatt remained adamant that the data should be handed over to the agencies to ensure the safety of all Lebanese.

The March 8 ministers also refused to give the agencies the International Mobile Subscriber Identity – a unique identifying number stored in every cellphone’s SIM, except in certain geographical areas of Lebanon.

Meanwhile, Telecoms Minister Nicolas Sehnaoui said Wednesday that the data issue has become political, adding that he does not trust certain security agencies.

“What is asked for is handing over the password for all Lebanese cellphones to agencies we do not trust,” he told reporters before stepping into the Cabinet session at the Grand Serail.

He also said that his ministry was working according to laws that regulate the telecoms sector.

The law currently permits telecoms data to be transferred to state security bodies, but the information released is subject to restrictions and therefore often incomplete.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on July 12, 2012, on page 3.




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