Privacy concerns rule debate about Special Investigation PowersPOSTED: 11/16/11 4:08 AM
St. Maarten – Members of the Central Committee went out of their way yesterday to stress the importance of citizens’ right to privacy during a debate about the introduction of the national ordinance on Special Investigation Powers.
Referred to by its Dutch acronym BOB (Bijzondere Opsporings Bevoegdheden), the draft ordinance was already once before in the committee in August, when Justice Minister Roland Duncan announced that there is an agreement about the legislation with his colleagues in Curacao and Aruba.
The BOB-legislation is part of the code of criminal procedure that has to be approved by parliament. In August, the last breaking point in the talks between the three Justice Ministers was who will be charged with authorizing the use of the methods described in the law.
Among those methods are structural observation, infiltration, and electronic bugging and the screening of internet-traffic. Until now there is no legal basis to use these methods. When investigators nevertheless used structural observation in the Louie Laveist bribery investigation, the appeals court not only excluded evidence that had been gathered this way, it also punished law enforcement by converting Laveist’s prison sentence to a suspended one – meaning that the National Alliance MP will not have to go to jail. His appeal was recently sent back to the appeals court for retrial by the Supreme Court.
Implementing the BOB-legislation is necessary to comply with international requirements in the fight against cross-border crime, terrorism and money laundering.
Minister Duncan, who celebrated his birthday yesterday, told the committee that the only weakness in the legislation is the obligation to notify suspects that they are subjected to special investigation methods. In August, the Minister said that the legislation also raises privacy concerns.
Most committee members consider the draft law far reaching, dramatic and every other word in the dictionary that describes their concerns. Nobody mentioned the practical value of the legislation for combating crime.
MP Leroy de Weever said that the draft law needs “a good reflection” since it presents “dramatic changes.” He added that there are “far reaching implications. We need to understand what this means for the citizenry. We do not necessarily have to import unethical practices from other countries. Let us not turn this country into a police state. Let us not go back to the days of the Gestapo.”
De Weever’s DP-colleague Roy Marlin concurred and warned that the law “severely curtails the right to privacy. “This applies to those who think about going on the wrong side of the law. But they too have a right to privacy.
UP faction leader Romain Laville joined the chorus of MPs with privacy-concerns and wondered who will control those who use the special investigation methods. Jules James said he is “ambivalent” about the proposal, that there is no need to rush it until its implications are fully understood.
Independent Patrick Illidge went a step further and spoke about the risk for “our basic human rights.” Not only that: “It is prudent that the justice system does more work to get information instead of taking rights away. Many people have become the victim of the justice system and there is never an apology.”
Louie Laveist, who joined the meeting later and who is the only MP with personal experience with special investigation methods, said that he supports a solid foundation for the justice system. “I have no intention of giving the system more headaches. I agree that there is a need for adjustments, but it is irresponsible to go along just to get along.”
Though Laveist used terms like “willing to compromise” and “make sure that the right to privacy is not trampled upon” he soon went off on a tangent saying he has the impression that “all adults are guilty until proven innocent,” followed by the term “overzealous law enforcement” and his opinion that “if law enforcement has abused its powers, a case should be thrown out.”
As if referring to his own legal troubles, Laveist added, “This is so far reaching. Where does entrapment start and where does it end?”
Independent Frans Richardson wondered whether St. Maarten can afford to implement the legislation. Ruth Douglas (UP) was the only one to remark that “these laws can have great benefits.” She acknowledged privacy laws, “but people also have to feel safe, and at the moment, they don’t.”
The meeting was adjourned until an undetermined date at a quarter past four.