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Law enforcement officers pan new wiretapping restrictions

TAIPEI -- Police and prosecutors in central Taiwan on Wednesday criticized a new amendment to the country's wiretapping laws, saying it would hamper their criminal investigations.

For example, the amended Communication Security and Surveillance Act, which was passed in the Legislature the previous day, does not allow wiretapping in cases of suspected murder plotting, the law enforcement officers said.

In such cases, electronic surveillance can commence only if there is actually a murder, they said in a joint statement by the Taiwan High Prosecutors Office's Taichung branch; district prosecutors offices in Taichung, Changhua, Miaoli and Nantou; Taichung Police Department, and the Investigation Bureau's Taichung branch.

Tsai Chung-hsi, deputy chief of the Taichung District Prosecutors Office, read the statement to the press, saying that another setback for investigators is that a case must now first be registered formally before a prosecutor can seek a wiretap warrant from the court.

When such a warrant is issued, the wiretap can only be placed on the phones of one individual involved in the case, he noted.

Another major revision to the law is a restriction on the release of suspects' phone records, except in cases where the offense carries a maximum penalty of three years or more in prison, Tsai said.

Without the right to view phone records, it would be difficult for police to track down the sources in cases of drug trafficking, he said.

Tsai said that in cases of missing or abducted persons, investigators would be hamstrung without electronic surveillance “because the identity of the suspects is usually uncertain.”

Under the restrictions of the revised law, law enforcement officers could miss the window of opportunity to save an abducted victim, he said.

The Criminal Investigation Bureau (CIB) also issued a rare press release Wednesday, warning that the revised statute could jeopardize crime-fighting efforts and disrupt social order in the country.

While the Legislature is concerned about personal freedom and privacy, its passage of the new amendments was too hasty, the bureau said.

It said the amendments are riddled with flaws that could hamper law enforcement officers in their fight against crime and exact a high cost on the country in terms of administrative resources and social order.

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