BEIRUT

Lebanon News

Cabinet puts off debate on telecoms data request

Telecoms Minister Nicolas Sehnaoui. (The Daily Star/Mohammad Azakir)

BEIRUT: The Cabinet shelved Wednesday the contentious issue of telecoms data demanded by security agencies until next week, ministerial sources said, in a move apparently aimed at averting a clash between Prime Minister Najib Mikati and Telecoms Minister Nicolas Sehnaoui.

“The Cabinet did not delve into the telecoms data issue in order to avoid a split among its members,” a ministerial source told The Daily Star. “The data issue has been postponed until next Wednesday’s Cabinet session.”

The source said that contacts made Tuesday between Cabinet members and Mikati had led to an agreement whereby neither the prime minister nor the telecoms minister would raise the issue during the meeting.

The agreement will allow for contacts to reach a satisfactory solution to the dispute between Mikati and Sehnaoui, the source added.

Speaking to reporters after the Cabinet session chaired by President Michel Sleiman at Baabda Palace, Information Minister Walid Daouk said the telecoms data subject was not addressed by the ministers.

“The [data] issue was not discussed. It had already been discussed and the necessary decision and measures had been taken in a previous session. This means that the issue had been discussed and is finished,” Daouk said.

He added that during last week’s session, ministers heard the legal opinion of Judge Shukri Sader, the head of the Shura Council, who said the decision on telecoms data falls within the prime minister’s prerogatives, after requests for access are filed by the defense and interior ministers.

The Cabinet session came a day after a row erupted between Mikati and MP Michel Aoun, the head of the Free Patriotic Movement, to which Sehnaoui belongs, on the issue.

Mikati had signed a request to provide security agencies with telecoms data. In comments published by a local daily Tuesday, Mikati said the telecoms minister should not withhold the data, which provoked a stern response from Aoun.

Aoun said Sehnaoui had the prerogatives concerning telecoms data, a claim that Mikati swiftly denied in a statement from his office.

Before entering the Cabinet meeting, Sehnaoui told reporters that he had not received any “exceptional” request for providing security agencies with all telecoms data.

Ministerial sources said Sehnaoui’s statement aimed at defusing the row between Mikati and Aoun.

Security bodies need access to the telecoms data to investigate the assassination of police intelligence chief Brig. Gen. Wissam al-Hasan, who was killed by a car bomb in Beirut on Oct. 19.

Whether the Internal Security Forces’ Information Branch should be able to access telecoms data has become a divisive 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.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on February 14, 2013, on page 3.

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