On its last day before recessing, the legislature yesterday approved revisions to the Communication Security and Surveillance Act (通訊保障及監察法) to toughen the rules governing the use of wiretaps.
The amendments were proposed in the wake of a controversy over wiretapping practices triggered by what became known as the “September strife” between President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) and Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng (王金平) last fall.
Among the changes approved yesterday was a requirement that prosecutors have to build a case for investigation based on certain allegations before they can apply for a court-approved wiretap order.
Another revision requires that court approval for a wiretap on a specific person be restricted to a warrant for that individual alone and not include other people in the same case.
While the changes fall short of ensuring that the approval to wiretap a person be restricted to a single case and not used in investigations into unrelated cases involving the same person, they will help rein in abuses of wiretapping power, Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Legislator Wu Yi-chen (吳宜臻) said on the legislative floor.
In the “September strife” scandal, the Special Investigation Division of the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office was found to have placed the telephone numbers of unrelated cases under a single wiretapping warrant during an investigation into allegations that Wang had improperly lobbied prosecutors not to appeal a non-guilty verdict handed down to DPP caucus whip Ker Chien-ming (柯建銘).
The amendment passed yesterday stipulates that information gathered from wiretaps cannot be used as evidence in separate cases unless prosecutors are able to obtain another court-approved wiretap order within seven days and prove the links between the cases.
Those convicted of violating the rule restricting the use of wiretap information only for the originally specified purpose could face up to three years in prison.
The Judicial Reform Foundation was sharply critical of the legislature’s actions, saying the approved revisions are insufficient to end the abuse of power and rampant use of wiretaps by law enforcement personnel.
The foundation has called for abolishment of the two institutions responsible for telephone surveillance activities under the supervision of the Ministry of Justice’s Investigation Bureau and the National Police Agency.
It has said the subordinate relationship between the institutions and investigative and police systems must end.
DPP Legislator Yu Mei-nu (尤美女) said she regretted that the party’s proposed amendment, which incorporated proposals made by the foundation, was not accepted by the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) in cross-party negotiations.
The law is supposed to protect the freedom of individuals and their privacy in telecommunications, not assist law enforcement personnel conducting criminal investigations, she said.
Following yesterday’s session, the legislature goes into a regular recess today.
The recess will last until Feb. 20.