Tue, Sep 29, 2009 - Page 1 News List

Ma calls for investigation into wiretaps

AN EARFUL A source in the intelligence community told a paper that communication intercepts by government agencies had ‘only increased’ since Ma became president

By Ko Shu-ling and Flora Wang  /  STAFF REPORTERS

President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) has ordered national security agencies to conduct a thorough investigation into allegations that wiretapping by intelligence agencies had become rampant since he took office and demanded severe punishment for officials who disobeyed his campaign promise to ban the practice, the Presidential Office said yesterday.

Presidential Office Spokesman Wang Yu-chi (王郁琦) said that Ma promised during his election campaign that there would be no more illegal wiretapping if he was elected.

Since Ma took office in May last year, Wang said the president personally gave orders to intelligence chiefs asking them to follow the law if wiretapping was necessary.

Wang made the remarks in response to a report in the Chinese-language China Times yesterday, which quoted an anonymous source at the monitoring unit of an intelligence agency as saying that wiretapping conducted by intelligence agencies had “only increased” over the past year.

The official was quoted as saying that although it was necessary to conduct wiretapping for the sake of national security, it was a violation of human rights if such means were used on politicians or members of the media.

The report said that while the source did not provide specifics, she used the visit of the Dalai Lama as an example, saying that intelligence agencies had gathered information about the Buddhist leader’s plans to visit before he even filed a request to do so.

The source said she believed Ma meant it when he said he wanted an end to illegal wiretapping.

Ma has personally inspected monitoring units of intelligence agencies on various occasions to reiterate his determination to end the practice of illegal eavesdropping, Wang said.

Ma also asked national security agencies to probe media reports about rampant eavesdropping, Wang said, adding that agencies must clean up their image if allegations proved to be false.

If they were true, however, Ma has requested that agencies mete out severe punishment to individuals who “complied in public but opposed in private,” Wang said.

In a statement yesterday, the National Security Bureau (NSB) dismissed the report as “groundless,” saying wiretapping had dropped by 70 percent and that all activities were conducted in a legal and necessary fashion after intelligence agencies obtained approval.

“The newspaper report of an increase in wiretapping of people’s phone conversations is just not true,” the statement said.

The NSB said Ma had visited three surveillance centers at the Ministry of Justice, the Criminal Investigation Bureau and the Military Intelligence Bureau in July last year and requested that special agents follow his orders.

The NSB said that approval must be obtained before an agent is allowed to carry out phone intercepts on any subject and that surveillance is a last resort after “all other alternative means of investigation” have been tried, it said.

In a press release, the Ministry of National Defense said the Military Intelligence Bureau’s mandate was to collect intelligence on matters of national security and carry out espionage activities against China, not tap the phones of domestic subjects.

The Communication Security and Surveillance Act (通訊保障及監察法) states that those who conduct illegal wiretapping are subject to up to five years in jail.

Civil servants who abuse their power or the opportunity or means of their work related to wiretaps to conduct or assist illegal wiretapping are subject to a jail term of between six months and five years.

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