Extent of phone tapping to be revealed in security committee meeting

Home affairs minister does not answer parliamentary question on extent of phone and email tapping, answers to be given during forthcoming security committee meeting

A series of questions posed by government MP Marlene Farrugia on the extent of phone tapping requests and whether tapping is ordered by the home affairs minister remained unanswered with minister Manuel Mallia explaining the replies would be given during the security committee’s next meeting.

Last week, opposition MP Jason Azzopardi said that the Monitoring Committee for the Scrutiny of Malta Security Services had not yet met since June last year and pressed government to publish the annual report on the Security Service.

Pressed by opposition leader Simon Busuttil to give a clear indication when the next meeting would be held, Mallia said the meeting would be held in the first week of July.

The committee, which includes Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, leader of the opposition Simon Busuttil and home affairs minister Manuel Mallia oversees the operations of the Security Service.

Recently statistics showed that mobile phone operator Vodafone received 3773 requests in Malta for metadata leading to concerns that Malta is the most spied-on nation in the European Union.

Malta is one of just eight Vodafone countries where telephony operators are legally barred from providing information on the extent of wire tapping. This puts Malta in the unlikely company of countries like Egypt, Albania, India, South Africa, Qatar and Turkey.

In her questions, Farrugia asked how many phone tapping requests were filed between January 2013 to date, how many requests were filed following Labour’s election in March 2013, how long does a tapping order last, how many email and SMS accounts are tapped and whether there are any plans to remove the minister’s power to order phone tapping.

In 2013, there were 3,773 warrants filed by the Malta government agencies for metadata. Metadata can include client's names and addresses, device locations, and the times of calls and messages. Single warrants can target hundreds of people and several warrants can be for information about a single individual.

In reaction to the report first published by The Guardian, the home affairs ministry insisted that, “in the absolute majority of the cases”, the requests were made by the Police while investigating criminal cases. Information was also used by the Police while searching for persons reported missing.

“Very few of the requests were interceptions or information requested by the Security Services,” it said.

Contacted by MaltaToday, a spokesperson for the Home Affairs had said she was not in a position to provide a breakdown of the interceptions made by the Malta Security Service "due to security reasons".