Phone tapping now legal in Rwanda

Rwanda’s parliament has passed an amendment to a bill that will authorise the tapping of telephones and other private communications for security reasons.

The new law, in addition to allowing for the interception and monitoring of certain communications in the course of transmission, will enable the government to monitor postal or other related services or systems.

Article 3 of the new law states that interception of communications is lawful where it is done in the interest of public security and in accordance with the law.

The article further states that only a designated judge will issue the warrant of interception if there is a reason to believe that the offence might result into a threat to life. In addition, given the urgency required in security situations, a prosecutor may issue the warrant verbally but have a written one ready in a time frame of 24 hours.

The warrant, which is valid for a period of three months, will now be issued in cases of threat to national security, national economic interest, and/or threat to national interest involving the state’s international relations.

The system works in such a way that a conversation may be recorded using a secondary storage device or a recording software and later the recording, whether private or not, may be started manually, automatically by detecting voice on the line or automatically whenever the phone is offline.

As for mobile phones which are harder to monitor because of their digitally-encoded and compressed transmission, with the help of service providers and the phone’s serial number, investigators will be able to differentiate between calls made and calls received on the phone and with this technique, they would be able to discover who owned or frequently used the phone.

Musa Fazil Harerimana, the Minister of Internal Security, while allaying fears said even with it being criminal to intercept one’s private conversation, it is a move meant to protect the subscribers.

The minister added that the government will buy the carrier equipment required to intercept this communication, so service providers would not be requested to buy new equipments.

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