Government moves to give intelligence services increased powers

26-06-2018

The outgoing Czech government has moved to increase the powers of the country’s intelligence services allowing them to develop a new face recognition system and gain access to information on bank accounts. The move is to improve coordination with the police force and help combat terror financing.

Andor Šandor, photo: Adam Kebrt / Czech RadioAndor Šandor, photo: Adam Kebrt / Czech Radio The present global security threats have upped the powers of intelligence services world-wide and the Czech Republic is no exception. However experts say more needs to be done to fight security risks and improve coordination not only among the country’s three intelligence agencies but with other security forces active in the country. Andor Šandor, a former head of the country’s military intelligence, says the additional powers are essential to the country’s security.

“They want to have a new face recognition system through CCTV cameras. They need this new system because the police has its own system which is in operation at the airport and other places and it was actually news to me that the intelligence services are now striving to have the same system as the police does. This tells you that there is no proper cooperation between these organizations, which is something the intelligence services are seeking to change. And in particular they want to gain access to bank data without the banks in question being alerted to the fact. It would be done through the Czech National Bank. This is essential because if you want to fight terrorism effectively you need to stop its financing.”

However the fact that, pending Parliament’s approval, security agencies would gain access to bank accounts normally protected by bank secrecy has raised concerns regarding the possibility of such data being abused. Finance Minister Alena Schillerová says that intelligence agencies would have to use their broader powers with great responsibility and effective security guarantees would have to be in place.

Illustrative photo: PixabayIllustrative photo: Pixabay “If you give someone greater powers, you will automatically detract them from someone else. So it is essential to balance the right of intelligence services to information and instruments that will enable them to do their work properly and the right of citizens and bank clients to protection of private data. This will require a very sensitive approach.”

Security expert Andor Šandor who spent 18 years of his life working for the country’s intelligence services says that no security guarantees are ever absolutely foolproof, but in this case national security interests must be met.

“Providing guarantees against abuse is always a difficult problem. It depends on what guarantees will be stipulated in the law, but you still never know. In intelligence organizations if you have people who want to misuse their powers, they will misuse them, that is the problem. You can never give 100 percent guarantees that the data collected will not be misused – such is the world we live in.”

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