By Alison Lowe
Nassau Guardian Business Editor
NASSAU, Bahamas -- A local senior counsel said that he does not see why the US would ‘target’ The Bahamas with widespread spying and he does not believe it would have significant implications for the perceived integrity of the offshore banking sector in the country if true.
Brian Moree QC, a partner with McKinney, Bancroft and Hughes, said that, if international reports that the US government’s National Security Agency (NSA) has been recording every cell phone conversation in The Bahamas are correct, this would represent a “massive and very disturbing” erosion of privacy rights in The Bahamas and an infringement of sovereignty.
He called on the government of The Bahamas – which on Tuesday called the report “clearly startling” and promised to uncover the facts of the matter – to verify the claims with US authorities.
The claims of widespread spying on Bahamian communications surfaced on Monday in a publication called The Intercept, run by journalist Glenn Greenwald, and have since spread internationally. Greenwald, who has been slowly releasing leaked information on the activities of the NSA provided by fugitive whistleblower, Edward Snowden, said the spying takes place under the auspices of a top-secret system – code-named SOMALGET – that was implemented without the knowledge or consent of the Bahamian government.
Asked if he felt reports that the US government has been recording and storing communications in The Bahamas could have a chilling effect on the likelihood of individuals wanting to engage with the offshore financial services sector in The Bahamas, given privacy concerns, Moree said: “I don’t think there’s any cause for any alarm about this until we establish if it’s correct. If it turns out to be true, this would be disconcerting I think for everybody. I’m not sure it would have a greater impact on the banking industry than on other areas of the economy. I don’t know if a lot of banking transactions actually occur over the telephone. In this day of technology I would think most of the instructions and activity of my clients probably come over some sort of emails or some other mode of communication.”
Even as the US government moves to implement legislation such as the Foreign Accounts Tax Compliance Act (FATCA), that calls for greater sharing of information between countries such as The Bahamas and the US in order to reduce tax evasion, Moree said he doubts there are clear reasons for the US government to be motivated to spy on Bahamian communications.
“We are living in an era where there seems to be a consistent diminution of privacy rights for people, certainly in conducting business, and I think that is a major factor because traditionally commerce and business are activities which people and institutions don’t like to become public; not because of some illegal activity or some illicit reasons, but simply because the nature of business and commerce is that people like to keep their affairs relatively private subject to legitimate restraints by the law.
“We’ve seen a consistent and gradual reduction of these privacy rights over the past 10-12 years and the notion that all of our telephone calls, cell phone or landline communications are being recorded and stored in some database is very disturbing and a further erosion of the privacy rights of people in our country.
“However, one always associates these extraordinary powers with anti-terrorism law enforcement initiatives, not for any other purpose, so it’s hard to understand, if indeed the story is correct, why they would target The Bahamas, because there wouldn’t seem to be any information in the public domain that would suggest terrorism activities have been going on in The Bahamas.”
Minister of Financial Services Ryan Pinder said, “No comment” when asked the same question, while Aliya Allen, chief executive officer of the Bahamas Financial Services Board (BFSB), did not return an email seeking comment.
Republished with permission of the Nassau Guardian