BEIRUT: This week’s Cabinet session could see a clash between Prime Minister Najib Mikati and the telecoms minister over the contentious issue of providing security agencies with telecoms data, March 8 ministerial sources said Monday.
The comments came after Mikati renewed a request to provide security agencies with telecoms data in 2013. A source close to Mikati told The Daily Star that the prime minister signed the request Friday and referred it to the Telecoms Ministry.
The request, put forward by the Interior and Defense ministries, calls on the Telecoms Ministry extend an existing order to provide data to security agencies that expired at the end of 2012.
Security bodies need access to the telecoms data to investigate the assassination of police intelligence chief Brig. Gen. Wissam al-Hasan, who was killed in a car blast in Beirut’s district of Ashrafieh on Oct. 19.
Sources at the Telecoms Ministry refused to comment on Mikati’s move. But sources in MP Michel Aoun’s parliamentary Change and Reform bloc, to which Telecoms Minister Nicolas Sehnaouibelongs, reiterated that this matter, according to the law, falls within the prerogatives of the telecoms minister rather than those of the prime minister.
It is difficult for the telecoms minister to violate the law just because the prime minister had decided that this matter falls within his prerogatives, the sources said.
Ministerial sources in the March 8 coalition expected a heated debate during Wednesday’s Cabinet session, scheduled to be held at Baabda Palace, if Sehnaouirefused to comply with Mikati’s order and provide the data.
Whether the Internal Security Forces’ Information Branch should be able to access telecoms data has become a contentious issue between the March 8 and March 14 parties.
March 14 politicians back the ISF’s request, while March 8 politicians oppose it on the grounds that such measures violate privacy and constitutional rights.
Last week, the Cabinet failed to reach an agreement over the matter. According to Information Minister Walid Daouk, Judge Shukri Sader, the head of the Shura Council, said the request “will become effective following the signatures of the interior and defense ministers and the prime minister.”
Previously, a judicial committee tasked with the issue asked the Telecoms Ministry to give security bodies the data up until the end of 2012.
The data includes the International Mobile Subscriber Identity, which holds key information about a cellphone, including its location, and the time and callers in a conversation.