By Travis Cartwright-Carroll
Nassau Guardian Staff Reporter
NASSAU, Bahamas -- The reported recording and storing of cell phone calls in The Bahamas by the United States appears illegal and an abuse of power, Minister of Foreign Affairs Fred Mitchell said on Tuesday.
Minister of Foreign Affairs Fred Mitchell
“The news that there is spying and the collecting of the audio of mobile phone calls of Bahamians by agencies of another country is clearly startling,” said Mitchell at a press conference.
He noted that the facts must be determined on the matter.
“It would also represent a great moral failing on the part of its perpetrators, in addition to illegality which challenges the founding principles of the rule of law,” Mitchell said.
“It would also be an invasion of privacy of the individual, a cherished democratic value and a legal right.
“Some explanation is required formally to confirm or deny the truth and authenticity of these allegations.”
Mitchell also said the government of The Bahamas summoned US Chargé d’Affaires John Dinkelman to a meeting at the ministry of foreign affairs on Tuesday to demand an explanation over claims the National Security Agency (NSA) is recording and archiving every cell phone call in The Bahamas.
Mitchell said the response from the chargé was consistent with what was printed in this newspaper, that the US “gathers foreign intelligence of the type gathered by all nations”.
“That of course is not a full explanation as far as we are concerned,” Mitchell said.
The allegation stems from documents allegedly leaked by former NSA analyst Edward Snowden.
According to the documents, the NSA is using a surveillance system called SOMALGET to collect and store “full-take audio” of every mobile call made in The Bahamas and storing it for up to 30 days.
The documents also list Kenya, Mexico, the Philippines and another country, whose name was redacted, as countries where the program exists.
The documents were leaked to US website The Intercept.
“Following upon the release of the story (by The Intercept), the Bahamian Charge in Washington, DC, contacted the US foreign office for an explanation,” Mitchell said.
“We expect that [Bahamas Ambassador to the US] Dr. Eugene Newry will meet with the US foreign office this afternoon.”
Mitchell said Dinkelman alerted Minister of National Security Dr Bernard Nottage about the story last week and told him (Mitchell) on Monday.
“He flagged the possibility of a story being released based on the leaks of the former US government employee Edward Snowden and that they would involve The Bahamas and the use of monitoring apparatus in The Bahamas,” he said.
Mitchell, who was on his way to a CARICOM meeting of foreign affairs ministers in Guyana, said he will raise the issue with other ministers and “seek their views on it and their support in the matter”.
The way forward
Mitchell said the government of The Bahamas will likely look at strengthening its laws on data protection.
“I would guess that regardless of what the truth or otherwise is of this, The Bahamas would be taking a similar look at things like data protection, the security of its communications and how those communications ought to be protected in law, and certainly how the privacy of Bahamians can be protected,” he said.
“Interestingly enough, in discussing the matter with the attorney general this morning, the government is still studying the Privy Council’s ruling in the recent appeal, which took place on a drug matter which considered the Listening Devices Act here in The Bahamas.
“The Privy Council raised various concerns in that case, so as a result of that, the legislation itself is being reviewed in any event about how these things transpire.”
In March, the Privy Council upheld the constitutionality of the Listening Devices Act, the legislation that oversees the country’s wiretaps laws during the drug trial of accused drug lord Melvin Maycock Sr. and four other men.
Republished with permission of the Nassau Guardian