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Security Agencies Given Full Access to Telecom Data Even Though "All Lebanese Can Not Be Suspects"

BY Jessica McKenzie | Monday, April 14 2014

In late March, Lebanese government ministers granted security agencies unrestricted access to telecommunications data in spite of some ministers' objections that it violates privacy rights. Global Voices reports that the policy violates Lebanon's existing surveillance and privacy law, Law 140, but has gotten little coverage from the country's mainstream media.

The head of Lebanon's accountability agency has publicly objected, saying, “It is [prohibited] to release data for the phone calls of 4 million Lebanese because all Lebanese can not be suspects.”

By law, Lebanese citizens are guaranteed the right to privacy in their electronic communications. But as 3G and Internet penetration rates have risen in recent years, so has government requests for online communications data.

In 2012 Lebanon's Internal Security Forces (ISF) asked the Ministry of Telecommunications for the content of all SMS messages sent between September 13 and November 10, and the usernames and passwords for popular messaging services, including Facebook.

Lebanon's Telecommunications Minister started a social media campaign to protest, under the hashtag #ProtectPrivacy. The request for dragnet information collection was rejected, and instead only SMS messages from “suspicious” telephone numbers were approved for release.

Last year, responding to questions about the Edward Snowden revelations, the same Minister, Nicolas Sehnaoui, said, “We are barely struggling to keep the privacy intact within Lebanon.”

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