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(JAMAICA OBSERVER) — Manchester Central Member of Parliament Peter Bunting is warning Jamaicans to be vigilant in the face of what he says could be a plan by Government to invade people’s privacy, using high-end Israeli spy technology.
Bunting told People’s National Party (PNP) supporters at a divisional conference in Mandeville on Sunday night that the capital budget for the Ministry of National Security for this year and last year showed “billions of dollars” which had been made “available and budgeted” for the “line item” cybersecurity “under a number of agencies in the Ministry of National Security”.
Bunting appeared to make a link between the cyber security allocations and a trip by Prime Minister Andrew Holness to Israel in 2017.
“We know the prime minister had taken a trip to Israel two years ago with his national security adviser, and two years’ time we still can’t hear what that trip was about. But what we now hear is that Israeli firms are providing cybersecurity capability to the Government,” said Bunting.
“We also hear that a number of these Israeli firms have provided this software capability, this intelligence capability to governments who have used it to spy on their political opponents, to governments who have used it to spy on media, to governments who have used it to spy on human rights activities.
“This is software that can… be used to infect the phone… read yuh WhatsApp messages, and reveal what is on your phone. So essentially, they use your phone to spy on you…,” said Bunting.
During a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem back in 2017, Holness was reported as speaking of possible cooperation with Israel in various areas, including cybersecurity.
“Jamaica, like Israel, is a strong democracy, and we have long admired the advances that Israel has made in technology, in particular in cybersecurity and in agriculture, and in other areas. The potential for cooperation between our two countries is great and Jamaica is very interested in exploring those areas of cooperation,” Holness said at the time.
Bunting told Comrades on Sunday night that “the truth of the matter is, we (Jamaica) have no modern legislation to govern the use of this type of capacity. I am alerting you tonight — we must be very vigilant about what is going on. Everything that they doing so far… is shrouded in secrecy around it”.
He argued that the record of the Andrew Holness-led Government since taking office in 2016 suggests they cannot be trusted.
“I am telling you, if we couldn’t trust them with Petrojam, if we couldn’t trust them with NESOL, if we couldn’t trust them at Ministry of Education… why do we feel we can trust them with the very privacy of what is on our cellphones? Not me, I not trusting them… I am giving notice now. We (political opposition) going to start asking some very hard questions about this Israeli spying capability that is being acquired… and to make sure it is not going to be used on the citizens of Jamaica in a way to violate our privacy, and in a way to frustrate the democracy which we have worked so hard for in this country…,” said Bunting.
The Manchester Central MP framed his comments in the context of what he alleged was evidence that Holness has authoritarian, even dictatorial, tendencies.
He harked back a few years ago to controversy when Holness, as opposition leader, dismissed two senators — Chris Tufton and Arthur Williams — using pre-signed letters of resignation. The matter was taken to court and the dismissals overturned in early 2015.
Bunting also recalled Holness’s initial appointment of current Chief Justice Bryan Sykes as acting chief justice — in breach of long-standing tradition and protocol — as evidence of an alleged authoritarian tendency. Sykes was eventually upgraded to his current position following uproar in the legal fraternity and the wider society.