Legislators accused judges across the nation of having become rubberstamps for the judiciary after the Judicial Yuan provided data on Thursday showing that while courts of all levels have approved of as many as 500,000 phone wiretaps since 2007, only 208 received enquiries by judges for judiciary oversight.
Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Legislator Wu Yi-chen (吳宜臻) said that after the judges were given the power to approve surveillance warrant applications, they had not closely monitored the surveillance cases they approved.
An amendment to the Communication Security and Surveillance Act (通訊保障及監察法) in 2007 stipulated that judges across all levels of courts have the authority to approve surveillance warrants.
Wu said that most surveillance cases were applied for under a larger case, pointing to the recent case concerning the Special Investigation Division (SID) of the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office as an example, adding that if the Taipei District Court had monitored surveillance cases it approved, it would have known of the SID’s alleged illegal wiretapping of the legislature.
Wu was referring to the alleged abuse of surveillance by the SID by wiretapping Democratic Progressive Party caucus whip Ker Chien-ming (柯建銘) and the Legislative Yuan switchboard.
Prosecutor-General Huang Shih-ming (黃世銘) has said the wiretapping operation for Ker, part of an investigation into a bribery case in which Ker was alleged to have been involved, was approved by a court for the period from May 16 to Sept. 9.
During the wiretap, the SID said it overheard a conversation Ker had with Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng (王金平) and said on Sept. 6 that Ker asked Wang to lobby on his behalf to then-justice minister Tseng Yung-fu (曾勇夫) and High Prosecutors’ Office Head Prosecutor Chen Shou-huang (陳守煌) not to appeal Ker’s not-guilty verdicts in a breach of trust case.
On Sept. 28, Ker told a press conference that among the numbers listed by the court in a notice informing him that the wiretapping of his lines had been discontinued following his acquittal in a breach of trust case was the Legislative Yuan’s switchboard number 0972-630-235.
Huang later confirmed that the SID had tapped the switchboard of the Legislative Yuan, mistaking it for the cellphone number of an aide to Ker.
According to the data provided by the Judicial Yuan, the rate of applying for and receiving approval for surveillance has increased from 2007 up to the end of August this year, with applications for surveillance in a total of 177,000 legal cases and an approval rate of 83 percent.
The data also showed that the applications covered 500,000 phones, meaning an average of 3.12 phones were placed under surveillance per investigation, and each line was bugged for an average of 76 days.
While the individual placed under surveillance has the right by law to be informed of the surveillance, the subjects of more than 2,500 cases were not informed, including 2,000 cases where this was due to court order and 478 cases due to negligence.
Of the 208 times a judge had visited the prosecutors’ office to oversee surveillance, the New Taipei City (新北市) District Court came in highest with 36 times and the Greater Kaohsiung District Court second with 31 times.
DPP Legislator You Mei-nu (尤美女) cited Germany as an example and said that while it had more than four times the total population of Taiwan, the rate at which its citizens were placed under surveillance was far lower than Taiwan.