Saturday, August 15, 2020

The DIS know What You Did Last Summer

If you have ever felt like someone is listening in on your private phone conversations, it is probably because they are.

The Directorate of Intelligence and Security (DIS) have not denied charges that they may be eavesdropping on people’s private phone conversations.

Speaking at the Public Accounts Committee (PAC)last week the DIS Director General Brigadier Peter Magosi all but confirmed the spy agency could be intercepting private phone conversations.

Responding to a comment from committee member Pono Moatlhodi who had raised concern about ‘phone tapping’ practices by the DIS, Magosi could only assure the Committee that his agency would not do anything “irresponsible” in relation to eavesdropping.

While he did not deny eavesdropping on conversations Magosi said the DIS had never sought a court order to mount phone tapping surveillance on anyone.

The Director’s comments again raised questions about the rogue nature of the spy agency, and failure by the Presidency to appoint oversight committees.

Former legislator and Alliance for Progressives Leader Ndaba Gaolathe has in the past raised concerns about the DIS’ lack of accountability. 

He said Botswana should have undertaken benchmarking exercises on the likes of the US, Australia and South Africa to “provide good case studies of direct legislative systems where the legislature has tangible powers and processes to provide significant but not debilitating oversight” over their respective intelligence communities. Gaolathe said in these systems the judiciary has a role, including for purposes of issuing warrants relating to surveillance or eavesdropping on individuals. 

He made reference to the US’ Foreign Surveillance Intelligence Act, a 1978 federal law which establishes procedures for the physical and electronic surveillance and collection of foreign intelligence information between foreign powers and agents of foreign powers suspected of espionage or terrorism.

He said there should be provisions for a specialized window within the judiciary without which eavesdropping and surveillance on individuals by the DIS are not possible.

“If this does not take place, even the appointment of any extraordinary head would not cure the symptoms of an organization gone rogue, let alone craft a foundation for a flourishing democracy and economy,” Gaolathe said of the then appointment of Magosi as the new spy boss following the sacking of the founding Director General Isaac Kgosi by President Mokgweetsi Masisi. 

Gaolathe said the then firing of Kgosi meant nothing if the structure and infrastructure that he built remained in place, saying the only work experience that most DIS agents had was limited to doing the “horrid things that made people fearful” of the spy agency. The DIS Act, he said, needed to be reviewed.

The US government itself, which Gaolathe believes should be used for benchmarking purposes, has had its fair share of controversy on matters relating to illegal phone and internet surveillance of citizens. In 2013 Edward Snowden, a former contractor for the CIA, leaked to the media details of extensive internet and phone surveillance by US intelligence. The media reported that the US National Security Agency (NSA) was collecting telephone records of tens of millions of Americans. The media published a secret court order directing a telecommunications company to hand over all its telephone data to the NSA on an a daily basis.

That report was followed by revelations that the NSA tapped directly into the servers of nine internet firms, including Facebook, Google, Microsoft and Yahoo, to track people’s online communication.

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