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Once Again, Citizens’ Telecoms and Emails at Stake, on the Pretext of Security Inquiry

Once Again, Citizens’ Telecoms and Emails at Stake, on the Pretext of Security Inquiry
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Latifa Husseini

Just days ago, the Information Branch addressed the government and the Ministers of Telecommunications and Interior with an official letter, hereby demanding to access the content of all text messages exchanged among citizens for the two months prior to the assassination of General Wissam Hassan.

The Branch also demanded to be provided with all Internet passwords to have access to emails and facebook messages.

Once Again, Citizens’ Telecoms and Emails at Stake, on the Pretext of Security InquiryBut this is not a normal request especially that it seeks to access the privacy of all the Lebanese. Telecoms Minister, Nicolas Sehanoui, immediately refused to meet the demand. Law experts, for their part, said such a request was above the laws.
"This telecoms data affair is more of a misleading campaign that was uncovered especially after a judicial committee headed to Paris and took note of the French Law which does not allow, in any way, the handing of data," Sehnaoui told Al-Ahed news site. "The Lebanese Law is similar to the French one," he noted.

The Minister considered that demanding to obtain the content of SMS and the passwords of facebook accounts and BlackBerry was harmful to all the Lebanese. "We did not say no to the security forces when they demanded anything related to a certain investigation. But this request has nothing to do with inquiries; it rather exposes the security and privacy of the Lebanese," he maintained.

Telecoms expert Retired General Mohammad Atoui indicated that the security apparatuses again trespassed the enforced laws by invading the citizens' privacy, protected by the Constitution and international conventions. He said that handing over the sought data would neither solve any problem nor unearth the truth behind assassinations and crimes.
"The assassination of General Hassan took place in a determined geographical spot in Ashrafieh, which is overseen by a certain telecoms observatory. Technically, this means that all the telecoms that were conducted at the time of the assassination were relevant to that very region," General Atoui told Al-Ahed. "Requesting all the data and SMS relevant to all the Lebanese in the South, Bekaa, the North, and Jbeil is unjustified and does not comply with the requirements of the investigation," he added.

Once Again, Citizens’ Telecoms and Emails at Stake, on the Pretext of Security InquiryHe stressed that handing over the full data indeed tampers with the state's figures and leaders, whom the law protects, especially that their telecoms will be uncovered just like any other citizen. "Such a measure will certainly take aim at the security chiefs and politicians," he underlined.
He also depicted the Information Branch's request as "political" especially that March 14 camp has repeatedly leveled the same demand, reminding that the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) has mentioned that "Israel" always relied on using this data in explosions and assassinations.

He also noted that the big meticulously schemed assassinations are not executed through regular phone calls, which means that there is no need for the full data.
On the legal level, International Law Professor at the Lebanese University, Hassan Jouni, clarified that the Information Branch's request was a violation of the Lebanese Law number 140/99 as well as of international conventions which consecrate the principle of privacy. Accordingly, he evoked the 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Jouni explained that if the geographical scope of the place of the assassination was determined, and if a list of the names of people who were present there was provided, investigations would be entitled to look into a part of the data.
He also pointed out that the ad-hoc judicial committee was the sole side entitled to decide whether to hand over the sought data or not.
"March 14 camp is trying to suggest that the other camp would be behind the assassination of General Hassan if the demand of the Information Branch was not met," Jouni told Al-Ahed.

He reiterated that investigators are not entitled to dispose of the entire data, because this would be considered invasion of people's private life.

Source:al-Ahed News, Translated and Edited by