Rwanda operators assure users on phone tapping law

Friday August 17 2012

Telecommunication service providers have moved to assure their subscribers that the recently passed Bill that allows security agencies to tap phones will not interfere with their privacy.

The Bill, which was passed last week by Parliament permits the government to tap phones as part of security operations.

Once the Bill becomes law, telecommunications service providers will be required to ensure that their systems support phone tapping by security agencies.

However, the mobile service providers said last week they would guarantee client confidentiality unless there was an official request by state organs to tap conversations as the law states.

“Tigo Rwanda is extremely respectful of the confidentiality of our customers and will maintain the information this way while complying with the law; the basic information we have about our customer base remains strictly private unless there is a formal request by the official stakeholders,” said Diego Camberos, TIGO chief executive officer.

“We respect the law and at the same time we need to assure clients rights, “he added.


Backing the law, Internal Security Minister Musa Fazil Harerimana said Rwanda studied the models in other commonwealth countries before drafting the Bill.

Francois Byabarumwanzi who heads the Parliamentary Committee on Human Rights, Unity and Reconciliation said phone tapping is necessary when carrying out investigations provided that it is done within the law.

“Interception of communications is considered lawful when it is done in the interests of public security and in accordance with the law,” he said in reference to Article 3 of the Bill.

However, the Bill prohibits interception of the president’s communications.

The law requires security agencies to apply for an interception warrant when carrying out investigations.

According to the Bill, the interception warrant shall be issued by a prosecutor.

Unless there is an urgent public security interests, the competent prosecutor may, upon the request of the authority, be required to issue an interception warrant verbally before he releases a written one in not less than 24 hours,” reads the Bill.

In developed democracies, telephone tapping is authorised by courts and can only be approved when evidence shows it is not possible to detect criminal or subversive activity in less intrusive ways.

The Bill is an amendment of a previous law passed in 2008 to ensure those who tap phones are closely monitored and information obtained is strictly used for the intended purpose.