President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) has attempted to discredit Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng (王金平) by trying to force him to resign after claims that he engaged in improper lobbying surfaced.
Despite the disconcerting feeling resulting from Ma’s direct power struggle, the role of the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office Special Investigation Division (SID), which has acted like the notorious Ming Dynasty secret police, is even more frightening.
As the situation develops, the veil covering the SID’s secret wiretapping is being lifted bit by bit. There are three reasons why this disgraceful practice is so vicious:
First, wiretapping is rampant. According to Judicial Yuan statistics, district courts across the nation issue more than 15,000 “surveillance warrants” per year. This number is similar to that of the US, has a population about 13.5 times larger than Taiwan’s. Is this a result of the lack of surveillance equipment and personnel in the US or excessive surveillance practices in Taiwan?
During a recent legislative question-and-answer session, Prosecutor-General Huang Shih-ming (黃世銘) said that the number of telephone wiretaps were about 60,000, 74,000, 92,000, 99,000 and 102,000 for each of the years between 2008 and last year respectively. Since Ma was elected president more than five years ago, the number of wiretaps has increased by 70 percent. If this is not excessive wiretapping, then what is?
Second, a number of wiretaps are illegal. The Communication Security and Surveillance Act (通訊保障及監察法) states that after an investigation involving wiretapping ends, the must inform the subject about the practice in a written notice within seven days, unless the notification could violate the purpose of an investigation.
The SID claims that it legally wiretapped Taiwan High Prosecutors’ Office Prosecutor Lin Shiow-tao (林秀濤) because of her alleged involvement in the improper lobbying case between July 13 and Sept. 5. She should have received a notice about the wiretapping no later than Sept. 12. The problem is that if the media had not asked her to confirm the wiretapping on Wednesday last week, she would not have known that she had been under surveillance since she did not receive a notification. This suggests that the SID did not notify her after the wiretapping ended. If this is not illegal wiretapping, then what is?
Third, the SID leaked information. Before Lin and Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) caucus whip Ker Chien-ming (柯建銘) received a notice from the court about being wiretapped, the division had already made a big announcement, releasing the transcripts of wiretapped conversations between Ker and Wang to the media. It seems that the SID likes to share the progress of its investigation with the public. If this is not leaking information, then what is?
Wiretapping could maybe be considered a “necessary evil” if used to investigate criminal and improper activities. However, if the SID wiretaps people in a blind search for evidence, it must use excuses to cover up its illegal action.
A prosecutor and the DPP caucus whip were wiretapped for a long time. Some Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) legislators even joke about this by asking each other: “Have you been wiretapped lately?” If this is not a White Terror-era in a state run by the secret police, then what is?
Chang Kuo-tsai is a former deputy secretary-general of the Taiwan Association of University Professors.
Translated by Eddy Chang