The two communications surveillance centers at the heart of what critics call the government’s rampant abuse of wiretapping should be abolished immediately, the Judicial Reform Foundation said yesterday.
The centers, which were established in the 1990s, pose a threat to freedom of speech, foundation members said at a Taipei press conference held with National Chiao Tung University students.
“The severity of the government’s wiretapping abuse problem has been greatly underestimated. We believe the root cause of the problem is the government’s two communications surveillance centers and we plan to push for an amendment to the Communication Security and Surveillance Act [通訊保障及監察法] to disband them,” foundation executive director Lin Feng-cheng (林峰正) said.
Citing government statistics, Lin said that prosecutors had on average applied for court approval for 15,000 wiretaps each year over the past five years, about 5.6 times the number of wiretap applications filed in the US and 520 times that seen in Japan.
Taking population sizes into account, the statistics showed that about 0.044 percent of the nation’s population of 23 million are monitored by the government annually, which is 50 times higher than the rate in the US and more than 1,900 times that in Japan, Lin said.
National Chiao Tung University electrical engineering professor Su Yu-ted (蘇育德) said the centers were founded “stealthily” by the government in 1992, with one affiliated to the Ministry of Justice’s Investigation Bureau and the other with the Ministry of the Interior’s National Police Agency.
Su said the wiretapping agencies had been deemed illegitimate in the past, but had been made legal.
“However, since 2000, all telecommunication operators have been required to set up transmission lines within the centers’ control rooms. This means that the communications of every citizen in this country go through the centers and are therefore subject to government surveillance,” Su said.
Greg Yo (尤伯祥), a member of the foundation’s executive committee, said the “September political strife” not only put the issue of the government’s wiretapping abuse on the table, but also proved that George Orwell’s “Big Brother” in his novel 1984 is not just a nightmare, but is alive now in Taiwan.
The strife Yo referred to erupted when it emerged that the Special Investigation Division of the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office illegally tapped the cellphone of Democratic Progressive Party caucus whip Ker Chien-ming (柯建銘) and the legislature’s switchboard. The division was probing Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng (王金平) for allegedly improperly lobbying for Ker in a breach of trust case, claims which resulted in the Chinese Nationalist Party’s (KMT) Central Evaluation and Discipline Committee revoking the speaker’s membership.
“The wiretapping abuse has led to an unlimited expansion of the government’s powers. The existence of the two centers is unconstitutional because they are a threat to the public’s basic rights of freedom of speech,” Yo said.
Yo urged the public to dedicate more attention to the issue and join the foundation’s calls for the centers’ abolishment.