National Security Minister Stuart Young says with the T&T Police Service’s (TTPS) new social media surveillance programme, those who hide behind ‘fake’ accounts to commit crimes will be brought to justice.
Young made the comment during the Standing Finance Committee’s debate on the Appropriation Bill for the financial year 2020 in Parliament. At the time, Young was responding to questions posed by Opposition MP for Naparima Rodney Charles.
The TTPS was allocated approximately $2.6 billion in the 2020 Budget and from this, $25 million is expected to be spent to create a centre with the capacity to monitor and analyse social media activity with surveillance equipment. This new initiative was documented in the Public Sector Investment Plan (PSIP) laid in Parliament along with other Budget documents on October 7.
In Parliament yesterday, Charles said there have been several concerns raised by the public since the announcement that the police will be monitoring social media.
When Young was asked to elaborate on how the $25m will be used, he said, “As you and every sophisticated society recognises, with the advent of social media there is a lot of evidence and a lot of intelligence on social media. For example, those engaged in gang activity, sometimes they like to share a lot of the activities that they are participating in and planning on social media and the police service has recognised there is a need to step up and to increase their capability of monitoring what is on social media from a criminal perspective.”
Young said the police will also monitor online activity related to child pornography and human trafficking. He said the public would also be surprised at the number of people who use social media to sell drugs and guns.
Charles said most of the public concern about the centre was focused on the invasion of privacy of citizens.
While Young gave the assurance that the TTPS would use the Standard Operating Procedures and be governed by the Interception of Communications Act (IOCA), he said those who think they can hide behind social media should think twice.
“The assurance that I can give is once persons don’t break the law and don’t engage in criminality they have nothing to be worried about. If people are hiding and doing criminal acts behind what they believe are fake profiles and the police are able to go behind that and find out who the real perpetrators are, so be it, then suffer the consequences of your criminal activity,” Young said.
He also said on social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram, once an individual’s profile is public the issue of invasion of privacy does not arise.
Charles also asked about a $25m allocation for mobile devices, questioning what it would be used for other than social media tracking.
Young said the money will be used to purchase mobile tracking systems, polygraph equipment, public order equipment: including tasers, pepper spray, canister grenades, rubber batons and riot gear. He said surveillance systems and tablets for TTPS vehicles to facilitate a direct camera feed to the Command Centre would also be purchased.
He said CoP Gary Griffith has full control of how these allocations are used as stipulated by Section 123A of the Constitution.
Young also explained that out of the $70m allocated for the TTPS to purchase new vehicles, a bomb disposal unit is on the cards. This is in addition to the new Sport Utility Vehicles (SUVs), sedans - both marked and unmarked- buses for community policing, armoured personnel carriers and riot control vehicles.