In addition to this all-
encompassing rule, Article 21 of the enforcement rules says that telecommunication companies should cooperate with surveillance by connecting their lines to the surveillance center of the government department that installs a phone wiretap via a dedicated line. It also says that the National Communications Commission has the power of adjudication over requests for telecommunication companies to cooperate with surveillance.
Surveillance is supposed to be done on a case-by-case basis, but how are telecommunication companies supposed to perform their basic gatekeeping function of protecting their customers’ privacy under a setup that allows any communications surveillance center to key in a surveillance command via a permanent dedicated line at any time?
If Chunghwa Telecom Co had really examined the content of the wiretap warrant for the 0972 number before it was implemented, we would not have found ourselves in the midst of a phone-tapping scandal. If the nature of the act is such that telecommunication companies operating under its strictures do not engage in even such a basic legitimate procedure, does this not mean that the government and telecommunication providers are cooperating in efforts to stamp out privacy?
When prosecutors, police or other investigative agencies look into ordinary criminal activities that are not listed in the act, how do these agencies obtain information about people’s telephone, Internet and other communications from public and private institutions that are so willing to cooperate?
If the government really wants to put an end to unlawful surveillance, then apart from amending the law to institute a system that requires judges to approve and issue surveillance warrants, should it not first frankly explain whether the practices of prosecutors, police and investigative agencies hitherto have conformed to the use of writs, which is a basic requirement in democratic countries? For example, if the government obtains data about people’s online activities from Google or Facebook, what is the legal basis for authorizing such an action, and what procedures exist for controlling it?
The Ministry of Justice’s report on its investigation into the recent controversial telephone wiretapping incidents is not just a shoddy piece of work, but also predictably unconvincing.
In conclusion, who should be afraid of unlawful communications surveillance under the existing framework? Rather than the politicians who keep blaming and shifting responsibility onto one another based on their respective political interests, the ones with the most to worry about are probably innocent members of the public whose rights could be trampled upon anytime and anywhere.
Liu Ching-yi is a professor at National Taiwan University’s Graduate Institute of National Development.
Translated by Julian Clegg