30 June 2012

Kenya: Terrorism Bill Should Not Invade People's Privacy

Photo: Capital FM
A home-made bomb ripped through shops in central Nairobi in what government officials confirmed to be a terrorist attack.


The Prevention of Terrorism Bill 2012 is out and, as would be expected, Muslims organizations have begun treating Kenyans to snippets of what could transpire on the floor of Parliament when the Bill is tabled.

The Bill is long overdue, especially Clause 48 of the Bill that provides for the compensation of victims of terrorist acts. If passed into law, victims of terrorism will by law be entitled to compensation from the Compensation of Victims of Terrorism Fund which will be established. The Fund will be financed by fines and forfeitures by convicted terrorists, grants, gifts and donations.

While we welcome the publication of the Bill, certain sections need thorough clarity, especially on the powers of the police and even revision if possible. One of the controversial provisions is found in Clause 30 that allows the police to tap into private conversations, albeit with the express permission of the High Court.

Kenya would not be the first to come up with such a proposal. In the wake of 9/11 former US president George Bush proposed wiretapping to monitor of telephone and Internet conversations by a third party, often by covert means. Even in the US which is a stable democracy and faces major terrorism threats on a daily basis, Americans were skeptical of the provision.

In Kenya, the fear could just be that this could be abused by an overzealous police force to intrude into the private lives of Kenyans and intimidate those deemed to be opponents of the regime. It would be fair therefore if such an order is obtained only when overwhelming evidence shows it is not possible to detect criminal or subversive activity in less intrusive ways and the crime being investigated is at least of a certain severity. While the security of Kenyans must be assured by the government, it should not become an excuse to intrude into people's privacy.

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