17 April 2014, Thursday
Today's Zaman

European citizens wiretapped more than Turkish citizens

3 December 2009, Thursday /ERCAN YAVUZ
As the row continues between the government and several judges over claims that a chief public prosecutor and members of the Supreme Court of Appeals have been wiretapped for a long time as part of an ongoing probe into the clandestine organization Ergenekon, research conducted by the Ministry of Justice has revealed that several mature democracies in Europe are involved in more wiretapping than Turkey. The ministry addressed the claims by revealing the amount of wiretapping in France, Germany, Italy and the United Kingdom.

A study on the amount of the wiretapping in European democracies revealed that Turkey’s wiretapping law is based on French law. France is the most wiretapped country in Europe. In a comparison made with France, the UK, Germany and Italy, Turkey fared much better than these countries in the wiretapping of public officials and citizens suspected of criminal activity.

Wiretapping was made legal through laws adopted in Germany in 1968, Austria in 1974, Switzerland in 1979, the UK in 1985, Italy in 1988 and France in 1991. The Law on Fighting Criminal Organizations adopted by Turkey in 1999 also made wiretapping legal. However, the grounds for wiretapping were reduced through a change in the law in 2004 during the Justice and Development Party’s (AK Party) tenure.

Research undertaken by the Ministry of Justice has revealed that the period of wiretapping is limited to six months in Turkey. This period was nine months before the AK Party came to power in 2002. Nearly 70,000 people are wiretapped in Turkey every year. The AK Party reduced the number of wiretapped people through a change in the law in 2004. The ministry has also discovered that security forces complain about the six-month time limit on wiretapping criminal and drug trafficking organizations as these organizations’ activities are constant.

To wiretap, a court ruling is a must. The wiretapping records are destroyed in the case that no crime is detected. If the chief public prosecutor’s office decides that there was no need for the wiretap, they have to inform the person in question that they were wiretapped and tell them the reason, duration and the result of the wiretapping in a written form within 15 days. Consequently, those who believe that they were wiretapped without a reason can sue for compensation.

The destruction of the wiretapping records in European countries has stricter applications. If a person in the UK has suspicions that he was being wiretapped, after he files a complaint, the interception of communications commissioner can inform the person in question whether they have been wiretapped and the results of the wiretapping. The French government does not have to inform people about the details of the wiretapping. In Germany, the government has to inform a person that they have been wiretapped after the investigation has been completed; however, there are many exceptions to this rule. The Italian government does not have to reveal the details of the wiretapping. As a result of its research, the Ministry of Justice has summarized the situation of wiretapping in other countries as such:

The United Kingdom: The initial approval for a wiretapping operation is given for two months. This period can be extended for six months at a time if it is found to be in the interests of the country’s security or economy. There is no time limit on wiretapping in the UK. In emergency situations, security forces can wiretap without court approval if a court decision has not been made within two days. The person under surveillance can be wiretapped at any location.

Germany: Initial approval for the wiretapping of an individual is given for three months, and their office is permitted to be wiretapped for four weeks. If the reasons for the initial wiretapping operation continue, permission can be extended for three-month periods. As in the UK, there is no ultimate time limit in wiretapping. In emergency cases, decisions about wiretapping are made within three days.

France: Legally, wiretapping can be done through an executive order or judicial decision. In the event there is proof of a crime, an executive order can be converted to a judicial decision. With an executive order, wiretapping can be done for four months, but can be extended by an additional four months if necessary. Judicial permission for wiretapping can be given for a period of 12 months. There is no ultimate time limit on the wiretapping in France. Wiretapping can be done everywhere. Nearly 30,000 people are wiretapped in France every year. The government also monitors the Internet data of 100,000 people.

Italy: Legally, wiretapping can be done through executive order or a prosecutor’s decision. Of all the European Union countries, Italy wiretaps through executive orders the most. In Operation Clean Hands alone, when the Italian judiciary attempted to uncover one of the biggest corruption scandals in Italian politics, 5,000 people were wiretapped. Prosecutor Antonio Di Pietro, who was in charge of the investigation, said not wiretapping criminals is the same as giving them a Ferrari to escape.

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