Corruption investigators in Rwanda may soon be mandated to place wiretaps on public officials

In a bid to nip corruption in the bud, Rwandan members of parliament (MPs) are ready to employ extra measures in rooting out corruption in public offices. They are calling for further empowerment of corruption investigators by authorising them to tap the phones of public officials in order to expose corruption plots. First off, communication interception is considered legal in the country, as a law was passed in that regard on August 22, 2013. However, it is only the government security agents who have the power to intercept communications from public officials through the Office of the National Prosecutor.

This move by MPs is the aftereffect of recent corruption allegations within the government. The East African reports that a 2014/15 Ombudsman Report shows that preliminary investigations failed to provide concrete evidence incriminating corrupt public servants linked to several multimillion-dollar projects like the $28.7 million geothermal energy projects in Nyabihu in the Western Province that were mismanaged.

However, members of parliament are concerned about the fact that public funds are no longer safe, so all public officials must be watched closely, by listening in on their phone conversations to detect any suspicious activity. Still, it may not be a smart move for these public officials to be aware such an interception ahead of time. This is because the guilty officials may simply employ other means of carrying out their corrupt practices without making use of phones or written communication.

We happen to be in the computer age where all sorts of information is available on the internet, it is possible for the officials to un-tap or debug their phones or internet voiceover connection after it has been tapped by the authorities. Better still, they could just get the Zimmermann’s Zfone, which runs a piece of software that aids secure voice communication over the Internet (VoIP), using the ZRTP protocol.

The extra step Rwanda is taking to ensure proper implementation of communication interception still ought to be commended, after all, many African countries are yet to adopt such bold steps in the fight against one of the biggest problems they face as a continent.

The fact remains that phone tapping for the purpose of strengthening the fight against corruption is good defence against any argument that may arise regarding the rights corruption investigators have to listen in on communications between public officials. A paper by Herbert Brownell Jr. on Public Security and Wire-tapping supports this argument as well. “First, consider the claim that intercepted evidence should not be admissible in Federal courts because wire-tapping is ‘dirty business’. Unquestionably, this is a strong argument. Inherently, people have little liking for eavesdropping of any kind. Fair play and freedom mean so much to us.”

“Wiretap snooping reminds us of the methods employed by the Nazi Gestapo and the Soviet OGPU. Yet, while some of these people would ban such evidence, they seem to be unaware that the law presently admits evidence which is obtained by informers; by eavesdroppers at someone’s keyhole or window or party line; by an officer concealed in a closet; by installation of a recording device on the adjoining wall of a man’s hotel or office; by transmitters concealed on an agent’s person; by authorised search and seizure,” he wrote.

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