A legislative committee yesterday froze part of the National Security Bureau’s (NSB) budget over concerns that security agencies are conducting illegal phone tapping.
Members of the Foreign and National Defense Committee decided to temporarily freeze NT$500 million (US$15.4 million) of the bureau’s NT$4.5 billion budget to prevent the bureau engaging in potentially illegal phone tapping and surveillance.
The legislators were concerned after reports in September suggested illegal surveillance had become rampant since President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) took office, despite his campaign promise to crack down on it. The Presidential Office later denied the reports.
The budget will be reviewed again after legislators visit the NSB’s headquarters and its facilities sometime near the end of this month.
“We want to make sure that the money will not be spent on illegal surveillance,” Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Chang Hsien-yao (張顯耀) said.
Approximately NT$3.6 billion of the bureau’s budget was to be set aside for confidential projects, details of which were not listed in the proposal for lawmakers to review.
The “secret budget” worried KMT and Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) lawmakers alike, who asked the bureau to disclose more details of its budget.
“We don’t feel comfortable about it, as nobody can assure us that no illegal or unreasonable projects are being undertaken,” DPP Legislator Tsai Huang-liang (蔡煌瑯) said.
Meanwhile, NSB Director-General Tsai Der-sheng (蔡得勝) told the committee that the Chinese military had begun work on a new type of aircraft carrier, but “the process has been bumpy.”
Tsai said it was the Chinese military’s goal to commission its first aircraft carrier by 2012.
“According to our estimates it will be difficult for them to achieve that goal,” Tsai said.
Quoting a briefing by Tsai on March 22, KMT Legislator Lin Yu-fang (林郁方) asked whether China’s military was sticking to its plan.
Tsai said the Chinese military had never changed its goal, but the NSB’s latest intelligence showed that maintaining the planned timeline would be difficult.
“It is not only our estimate. Chinese military officials also feel the same way,” Tsai said.