Taiwan News, Staff Writer
2013-09-17 12:09 PM
Reportedly some 80-plus percent of wiretapping is backed by court orders, and the latest statistics available on how the data gleaned from eavesdropping was used show that an average of just under one in five cases were dismissed. Besides that, no one knows how often judicial and police authorities are cutting into in private lines to listen in.
Observers say that as many as 1.5 million people in Taiwan may have had their lines tapped, with the number being constantly monitored for more than a year about 180 – a figure that has led some to wonder, "Does Taiwan have as many as 180 hard-core criminals who need to be monitored so closely? Or is community leaders who are being monitored?"
Without leaking any sensitive information, the government should release relevant data on cases involving long-term monitoring of telephone traffic, or at least subject such activity to supervision by the Control Yuan or Legislative Yuan. The original mission of the SID in the wiretapping which set off ‘Ma vs. Wang’ was to listen to persons related to a corruption investigation involving legislator Ker Chien-ming. While listening in on Ker’s phone calls, agents stumbled onto what they say were leads pointing toward what appeared to constitute a case of influence peddling regarding Ker. The SID allegedly passed on data obtained through its monitoring activity to Chief Prosecutor Huang Shih-ming, who in turn reported it to President Ma Ying-jeou. From there it was just one more step for Ma to take the wiretap results public, accusing Wang Jin-pyng of illegal lobbying on behalf of Ker Chien-ming.
The actions of the SID in wiretapping the phone of Ker Chien-ming and listening in to conversations involving Wang Jin-pyng and Minister of Justice Tseng Yung-fu were in violation of the Constitution and laws regarding wiretapping and illegal monitoring of persons not suspected of serious criminal activity. Furthermore, the information gleaned through the wiretapping should have been passed on to proper authorities, not the president.
The actions of the SID and the KMT’s subsequent decision to strip Wang Jin-pyng of his party membership – a process one critic likened to a ‘kangaroo court’ – hearken back to the days of the White Terror in Taiwan and the period of martial law which followed.
Large-scale domestic wiretapping in Taiwan dates back to 1982 when all telecom monitoring operations were consolidated under the now-defunct Taiwan Garrison Command (TGC) and carried out with advanced equipment.
The primary reason for wiretapping at the time was to monitor communications by criminals and illegal organizations and help the Investigation Bureau (IB) and the Criminal Investigation Bureau (CIB) gather evidence of illegal activities. Opposition political figures were also included in the monitoring net.
According to the nation’s Telecom Protection and Monitoring Law, only the National Police Administration under the Ministry of Interior, the IB under the Ministry of Justice, and the General Military Police Headquarters under the MND were allowed to engage in domestic surveillance. In addition, the agencies were required to obtain permission from the prosecutors’ office of the Supreme Court before they could initiate wiretapping of targets in Taiwan.
In an attempt to rein in rampant wiretapping, the Legislative Yuan passed
the 1996 Telecommunications Law which states, "Unauthorized third parties shall not receive, record or use other illegal means to infringe upon the secrets of telecommunications enterprises and telecommunications messages. A telecommunications enterprise should take proper and necessary measures to protect its telecommunications security." The Act was amended in October 1999 to increase penalties for illegal telephone taps to NT$1.5 million (then US$ 44,000) and up to five years in prison.
Illegal wiretapping by the government was a widespread problem in Taiwan for many years. Previously, under the martial law-era Telecommunications Surveillance Act and Code of Criminal Procedure, judicial and security authorities simply filed a written request with a prosecutor's office to wiretap a suspect's telephone calls.
In June 1999 the Legislative Yuan approved the Communication Protection and Surveillance Act, imposing stricter guidelines on when and how wiretaps can be used – although they can still be approved for broad reasons such as "national security" and "social order." The act also requires telecommunications providers to assist law enforcement and sets technical requirements for interception.
Article 5 of the Communication Protection and Surveillance Act on the "felony principle" stipulates that the crime suspected in cases where prosecutors or investigators want to plant wiretaps must be a crime that would carry a sentence of more than three years in prison. If SID agents listened in on telephone conversations by tapping into the phone lines or cell phone of Wang Jin-pyng – who has never been charged with a felony – then they are guilty of illegal eavesdropping. Wang, who was in Malaysia attending his daughter’s wedding when news broke of the influence peddling case, refrained from calling his office in Taipei before returning to Taiwan precisely because he suspected his lines may have been tapped.
SID has claimed that they had warrants for wiretapping thus their monitoring of phone calls was legitimate. In fact, however, the only warrant they had was for monitoring Ker Chien-ming’s phone in connection with the corruption case. The warrant did not cover communications between Ker and Wang Jin-pyng, and the conversations obtained in connection with the alleged influence peddling case were what is termed "eavesdropping on another case." Thus the recordings were obtained without a warrant and were not legal.
Lin Ming-chen, a KMT legislator, notes that the phones in his office play a recorded message saying, “This telephone conversation is being recorded, please watch what you say,” for all incoming calls because he is leery of wiretapping. As things stand now, that might be good advice for anyone using the phone – or any other electronic means – to communicate in Taiwan.