“Big Brother is watching you” is a term that refers to a government having total control over people’s lives.
The term was introduced in George Orwell’s best-selling book, Nineteen Eighty Four.
Orwell wrote of people being under constant surveillance from the authorities.
Well, that may be the case in Trinidad and Tobago, with the expanded Strategic Services Agency (SSA) Bill, which the Government has taken to the House of Representatives.
The Government is amending the substantive law to give the SSA wide-ranging civilian powers to do surveillance work with respect to all serious crimes, and not just drug offences.
The SSA will become a virtual Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI), and a more powerful version of the previous Special Anti-Crime Unit of Trinidad and Tobago (SAUTT).
The director of the SSA will report to a politician – the Minister of National Security.
Tremendous powers are being given to the director and his boss, the National Security Minister.
Intelligence can be gathered and databases maintained on literally anyone who is determined to be involved in any serious crimes.
There is no definition of the word “involved”, so that remains a judgment call of the director.
There is no threshold for determining the level of involvement.
The revised law does not spell out how and where information would be kept, who would be the administrators and custodians and how such material would be destroyed.
There is no parliamentary oversight mechanism.
The SSA would cooperate with international surveillance agencies, which means that local files could be passed to similar organisations abroad.
There are deep concerns about the possible politicisation of the local surveillance system.
Fears are being expressed that citizens’ telephone calls, emails, Facebook posts and instance messages could be intercepted and monitored.
One security expert stated: “Any information, including rumour of gossip, could be used to justify intercepting a person’s communications – and the general public would never know.”
There are no requirements for the director to disclose the number of interceptions without a warrant.
There is no recourse for people to complain about the actions of the SSA.
The political Opposition has opposed the measure, protesting that is it too far-reaching, with a lack of checks and balances and protection of ordinary citizens.
The Opposition has proposed that the proposed amended law be considered by a Joint Select Committee of Parliament.
But Attorney General Faris Al Rawi has expressed the Government’s determination to go ahead with the controversial law, which could put the simple man-in-the-street under the searchlight.
So, Big Brother may indeed be watching you.