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Legislature approves controversial amendments to restrict wiretaps

ROC Central News Agency

2014/01/14 22:04:56

Taipei, Jan. 14 (CNA) Lawmakers made wiretap warrants more difficult to obtain Tuesday by approving sweeping amendments to the country's wiretapping law, in a move criticized by the Ministry of Justice as having 'a negative impact on crime-fighting.'

Among the most important amendments to the Communication Security and Surveillance Act, one requires a case to be first registered formally before a prosecutor can ask a court for a wiretap order.

When an order is issued, it can be used to eavesdrop on the phones of only one individual involved in one single case. This is meant to prevent the hitherto common practice of tapping the phones of several people with just one warrant.

An amendment dubbed 'the Wang Jin-pyng article' forbids the authorities to transcribe conversations that are not related to the purpose of the wiretap.

According to a transcript released by the Special Investigation Division (SID) last September, Wang, the speaker of the Legislative Yuan, appeared to have engaged in influence peddling on behalf of Ker Chien-ming, chief whip of the opposition Democratic Progressive Party's legislative caucus.

The conversation was picked up when the SID tapped Ker's phone as part of an investigation into a case that he was involved in.

A source of major concern for law enforcement agencies is that the police and prosecutors office are now required to obtain court permission to obtain the phone records of an individual they want to investigate.

An official who spoke on condition of anonymity said it is questionable whether a court can work around the clock in the way that the police do. A suspect could flee well before a judge is available to approve a request to get his phone records, the official said.

One exception to the rule is that, when investigating a crime that carries a maximum penalty of 10 years or more in prison, the police and prosecutors are allowed to obtain phone records prior to court approval.

In a statement, the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) said the hastily written amendments will 'tie the hands that fight crime and will have a negative impact on crime-fighting.'

The MOJ criticized the amendment that bans the viewing of the phone records of suspects except in cases where the maximum penalty is three years in prison or more, even if a crime victim requests the information as evidence.

The ministry said it will seek further amendments to rectify these problems.

On the other hand, Wu Yi-chen, a DPP lawmaker and a convener of the Legislature's judiciary committee, said the amendments represent a big leap forward in the protection of human rights, as they can prevent wiretap abuse.

In addition to changing the way in which wiretapping is carried out, the revised law expands the scope of criminal investigations in which the practice is permitted.

They include investigations into possible illegal export of stolen commercial secrets and random disposal of hazardous waste.

(By Chen Wei-ting, Wang Jing-yi, Liu Chien-pang and Jay Chen)

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