Communications tapping, taping and paranoia in Sri Lanka

An excerpt from a story published in the Sunday Leader, 29th November 2009, demonstrates the reach of communications surveillance in Sri Lanka, and the sheer paranoia of the Rajapakse administration that drives it.

Painfully aware of the chinks in their armor the former Chief of Defense Staff could exploit, the Rajapaksas have moved swiftly, decisively and of course, ruthlessly. The Sunday Leader learns that state intelligence has been tapping both the land and mobile phones belonging to Sarath Fonseka, his family, staff and senior aides for months.

Even ministers, officers at the Defence Ministry, and senior Presidential aides who are known to have associated with Fonseka, are now said to have had their phones tapped. And in the latest bout of paranoia following Fonseka’s formal announcement of his candidacy, it is reported that editors and defence correspondents who have had any contact with the General are now being wire tapped.

Of course surveillance of opposition politicians and anti government editors is simply the de facto state of affairs in this state of serendipity. But the extent of the government’s current bout of surveillance is Orwellian and reminiscent of the most paranoid and sinister of authoritarian dictatorships. And surveillance is not restricted to wire taps — several key opposition figures are now being constantly shadowed, kept in the sights of government operatives day and night.

Initially, phone tapping was handled by the rather shady State Intelligence Service (SIS) but the government’s need to eavesdrop is such that the Military Intelligence corps has also begun tapping phones, with assistance from the Army Signals Corps.
Headed by a Brigadier specialising in telecommunications, there are specialised groups within the intelligence corps for tapping, taping and reporting vital information to superiors.

Superiors inevitably from the Directorate of Military Intelligence (DMI) and SIS who report to the Ministry of Defence what they have heard and await further orders. The details regarding phone tapping were leaked to The Sunday Leader by an officer involved in the tapping. But despite the brazenness and openness of the surveillance now being conducted, under the law of this Lankan land the tapping of any land or mobile phone conversation is illegal.

Of course, it is well known that the law in Sri Lanka is somewhat optional. What is particularly outstanding in this case however, is that this abuse of individuals’ constitutional right to privacy are not being carried out for the security of the nation, but to secure the interests of the Rajapaksa regime.

Sarath Fonseka and his associates aren’t having their phones tapped because they pose a threat to the citizens of this nation, but because they pose a threat to the absolute power of this regime. And for all the talk of patriotism, that ultimately is the thinking that drives this regime — the nation recedes into insignificance when the administration’s interests are threatened.

And phone tapping isn’t the only instance where the national interest and this nation’s law has been subordinated to the government self interest.

Also read Intercepting mobile communications: A cogent case for truth-seeking and slow news?

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