SEE BELOW STATEMENT ISSUED BY OPPOSITION MEMBER OF PARLIAMENT JERMAINE FIGUEIRA:
The National Intelligence Agency Bill (NIAB) which was introduced to the National Assembly of Guyana with the aim of establishing a national intelligence agency to provide actionable intelligence to assist in the maintenance of the country’s safety and security. Is a matter of serious concern for the populace.
The bill’s provisions have generated significant controversy, with critics arguing that it contains several clauses that undermine civil liberties and constitutional rights.
The NIAB purports to establish a lawful framework for the establishment, organizational structure, and regulation of national intelligence operations. The bill seeks to provide statutory authority for intelligence activities, including the gathering, collation, analysis, and dissemination of information in support of intelligence-led operations to enhance the safety and security of Guyana. The bill establishes the National Intelligence Agency (NIA), which will be a civilian agency operating under the jurisdiction of the President of Guyana. The bill defines intelligence as any information, data, or analysis that helps establish criminality and threats to Guyana’s national security.
Mr. Editor, while the NIAB’s stated objective is to safeguard the country’s national security and enhance public safety, a close read of the bill’s provisions raise significant concerns on the impact on Guyanese civil liberties and constitutional rights.
To lend support to what I have posited, this bill essentially gives sweeping power for unregulated Intelligence Gathering
Mr. Editor, this bill allows for the NIA to gather intelligence through any means without any regulation or oversight. Such wide-ranging powers can and will likely lead to the violation of citizens’ privacy, including wiretapping citizens’ phones, which I’m told is already happening, intercepting emails and monitoring social media activities. These actions can and will create an atmosphere of fear, suspicion, and intimidation, which will most certainly erode trust between citizens and the government, undermining civil liberties.
Additionally, the ambiguous definition of intelligence threats certainly does not help either.
The NIAB’s broad definition of intelligence threats can be of significant concern if such intelligence is used for purposes other than establishing criminality and national security threats. The bill lacks a clear interpretation of the nature and types of information that the NIA can gather, which can lead to the agency’s arbitrary interpretation of such information described as an intelligence risk.
Furher the Lack of Proper Oversight is even more concerning.
The bill lacks proper oversight mechanisms, such as parliamentary oversight, which can lead to abuse of power by the NIA. The bill does not contain any mechanism for judicial oversight to ensure that intelligence gathering activities are constitutional and comply with human rights norms. This can lead to the arbitrary use of the NIA’s powers, which can undermine citizens’ civil liberties and rights. In this regard, much commendation is given to the Guyana Bar Association for its expressed and respected viewpoints.
Mr. Editor, the NIA bill, in its present construct, will criminalize whistleblowers who leak intelligence information, even if it is in the public interest. This can deter present and potential future whistleblowers from exposing corruption or human rights abuses, which can and will undermine transparency and accountability in government operations.
Mr. Editor, it must be reiterated that the National Intelligence Agency Bill raises significant concerns about its potential impact on citizens’ constitutional rights and civil liberties. While the bill’s objective is to enhance public safety and safeguard the country’s national security, the overly broad definition of intelligence, lack of proper oversight, and the criminalization of whistleblowers can lead to the abuse of power by the NIA. The government of Guyana must give serious consideration towards amending the NIAB to provide clear definitions, oversight mechanisms, and safeguards to protect citizens’ privacy rights while ensuring the legitimate goals of the law are met
In conclusion, while national security is a priority, this should not be achieved at the expense of citizens’ constitutional rights and freedoms. In this regard, I commend President Ali for his proposal for this bill to go to a special select committee of the parliament, which the opposition will support to ensure the bill is given a surgical interrogation and the necessary amendments that the people of Guyana will accept after wide consultation.
Hon. Jermaine Figueira.MP