Lebanon News

Wiretapping tops agenda of government meeting

Ministers attend a Cabinet session at the presidential palace in Baabda, Wednesday, Sept. 19, 2012. (The Daily Star/Mohammad Azakir)

BEIRUT: The sensitive issue of wiretapping will top the agenda of this week’s Cabinet meeting with an urgent measure aimed at amending a law that protects the right to private phone calls, ministerial sources said Monday.

With President Michel Sleiman currently in Peru to head the Arab delegation in the Summit of South American-Arab Countries, the Cabinet is scheduled to meet under Prime Minister Najib Mikati at the Grand Serail Wednesday to discuss 82 items on its agenda, the sources said.

Wednesday’s will be the only Cabinet session in October because when Sleiman returns from Peru on Oct. 9, Mikati will leave one or two days later for Congo to represent Lebanon at the Francophone Summit.

The long-awaited appointments in the public administration and the new salary scale recently approved by the government are not on the agenda.

However, in addition to the wiretapping issue, the agenda includes two other important items: A proposal by Justice Minister Shakib Qortbawi for the formation of an independent national committee to investigate the cases of Lebanese who went missing in Syria, and a report by the Lebanese delegation on the results of its recent visit to France where it was briefed on a mechanism to intercept phone calls, according to the sources.

The Cabinet will consider an urgent draft law aimed at amending the first article of Law 140/99 concerning the right to private calls made by any communications means.

Article 1 of Law 140/99 stipulates the protection of the privacy of phone, fax and email communications, while other articles in the law list exceptions.

The draft law, which was approved by a member of a judicial committee tasked with protecting private phone calls but was not presented to Telecommunications Minister Nicolas Sehnaoui, demands permission for security apparatuses or others to eavesdrop on any resident on Lebanese territory and monitor his movement anywhere around-the-clock.

The Telecommunications Ministry said in a report that the draft law violates Article 66 of the Lebanese Constitution because it was introduced without consulting the telecoms minister and therefore infringes on his prerogatives, as well as those of all Cabinet ministers.

The amendment of Law 140/99 will allow personnel in security bodies to monitor the movements, contacts and ties of any person in Lebanon, the ministry’s report said.

It added that the proposed amendment of Law 140/99 would lead to the penetration of security agencies as had happened with the Flame virus, which turned a security agency into a spy pursuing any person wherever he goes and whenever he moves, whether at home, in the office or “even in the bedroom.”

According to the ministry’s report, the draft law contained items that constituted “a flagrant violation of the preamble in the Constitution, particularly Item C, which states that Lebanon is a democratic, parliamentary republic based on the respect of public freedoms, at the forefront of which is the freedom of opinion and religious belief.”

The Telecoms Ministry said in its report that legal jurisprudence had found solutions when there was a conflict between two interests: The interest to protect the people’s freedom, privacy and their rights and the interest of the country’s security.

In this case, a solution lies in an attempt to reconcile these two interests, rather than sacrificing any of them as this draft law is trying to sacrifice the people’s freedom and the sanctity of their homes, the ministry said. It added that the proposed amendment of Law 140/99 constituted “a flagrant attack on the citizens’ freedom and their rights and a violation of the general principles on which the Lebanese state was founded as well as of the regulations of the Lebanese Constitution, which has the final say.”

Other items on the Cabinet’s agenda are a draft decree imposing taxes paid on dividends to shareholders and a Finance Ministry request to issue treasury bonds in foreign currencies and to authorize the finance minister to take the necessary measures for this purpose.

The agenda also includes development projects proposed for the city of Tripoli, a mechanism for implementing them and a draft decree that seeks to allow Lebanese students enrolled at Syrian universities to pursue their studies at the Lebanese University.

The Cabinet will discuss an offer by the Ministry of Public Works and Transport to rehabilitate and maintain the Roumieh prison building and also rehabilitate and maintain government buildings and institutions by inviting tenders.

The Cabinet is also expected to discuss a gift of 15 vehicles and 480 pairs of shoes from French authorities to the Lebanese Army, a gift of humanitarian aid from the Chinese government to Syrian refugees in Lebanon.

It will also discuss a gift from Dar al-Amal Society to the Directorate General of Internal Security Forces for the building of a medical checkup room and a kitchen at the women’s prison in Baabda.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on October 02, 2012, on page 3.




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