NSB dismisses concerns over draft surveillance act

By Wu Ming-chieh and Jake Chung  /  Staff reporter, with staff writer

Fri, Jun 14, 2013 - Page 3

A draft information surveillance and control act aimed at curbing foreign espionage and cyberattacks has been submitted to the Executive Yuan for review, the National Security Bureau (NSB) said on Wednesday.

If the act passes legislative review and becomes law, the bureau said it would seek to establish an information surveillance and controlling committee to oversee governmental information gathering.

Addressing concerns over potential human rights infringements sparked by the draft act not requiring the NSB to inform individuals who are subjected to wiretapping, the bureau said that people would be notified if they are indicted.

If the bureau was to notify wiretapped individuals prior to indictment, it could damage its ability to build a case, the bureau said.

The security agency said the main focus of the draft act is foreign nationals living in Taiwan who do not have a registered residence, adding that it would not infringe on the rights of Taiwanese citizens.

The Communication Security and Surveillance Act (通訊保障及監察法) is still applicable to foreigners living in the nation who have a registered residence, the bureau said, adding that any wiretapping of foreigners in this category has to be approved by a Supreme Court judge.

However, there is precedent for allegedly questionable wiretapping carried out by the bureau.

In 2011, Wu Chao-han (吳兆漢), a former NSB colonel, sued the bureau for monitoring him between 2007 and 2008 on unproven charges, and did not inform him that the surveillance operation had been terminated until December last year.

Meanwhile, in light of recent controversy regarding the information-gathering activities of the US’ National Security Agency (NSA), some have said the Taiwanese bureau’s efforts are an administrative overreach which could expand the NSB’s powers and infringe on the human rights of Taiwanese.

Former CIA technical assistant Edward Snowden blew the whistle on the NSA in an article published by Britain’s the Guardian newspaper last week, alleging that the US security agency conducted a clandestine program named Prism which sifted through the Internet activity and telephone records of numerous US citizens.

Snowden also alleged that the program sought the cooperation of software and Internet firms, such as Microsoft and Google.

The bureau responded to such concerns by saying the draft act would not expand the bureau’s current powers, adding that it was required to counter acts of espionage and other foreign threats.

Furthermore, the draft act also contains measures to prevent the nation’s intelligence agencies from exceeding their authority and to protect the human rights of Taiwanese citizens, the bureau added.

The bureau also said that it was inaccurate to compare the draft act with the NSA’s alleged activities, adding that the bureau had submitted the draft act for review to the Executive Yuan at the beginning of the year, while allegations regarding the NSA’s Prism project had only recently come to light.