How the Drug War Threatens Privacy Rights Around the World

The first case comes from the United Kingdom although it deals with a group of defendants in the Bahamas. The Bahamas secured independence from the United Kingdom and adopted its own constitution in 1973, but like many former British colonies, the island nation chose to retain the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council as its final court of appeal. The Privy Council is composed primarily of the judges of the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom, who before 2005 were members of the House of Lords.

In 2004, federal prosecutors in Miami requested the Bahamas extradite Melvin Maycock Sr. and about a dozen other persons accused of drug trafficking. Bahamian police assisted the U.S. investigation by tapping and recording the defendants’ telephone conversations. Before the Bahamian magistrate hearing the extradition requests, the defendants challenged the constitutionality of the wiretaps. The magistrate referred the constitutional questions to a higher court, and it, along with the Court of Appeal for the Bahamas, found nothing wrong with the wiretaps. Maycock and five of his co-defendants then made a final appeal to the Privy Council.

Unlike the United States, the Bahamas does not require a judicial order to authorize wiretaps. Under a 1972 law, adopted the year before the Bahamas present constitution took effect, the commissioner of police may conduct wiretaps “after consultation with the Attorney-General,” a cabinet minister who sits in the Bahamian legislature. The Maycock defendants argued this did not provide sufficient constitutional safeguards, such as independent judicial oversight. In addition to freedom from unreasonable searches, the Bahamian constitution also recognizes the freedom “to receive and impart ideas and information without interference, and freedom from interference with his correspondence.” The defendants said the police wiretaps violated this freedom.

The Privy Council agreed that wiretaps fell within the Constitution’s “interference with correspondence” provision. Lord Jonathan Mance, who wrote the Privy Council’s opinion, also expressed concerns that the lack of independent supervision and judicial safeguards might render the Bahamian wiretap law unconstitutional in the modern era. Lord Mance noted the comments of Justice John Isaacs, who initially heard this case in the Bahamas and “made clear his own grave concerns” about the absence of any oversight to identify or prevent police abuses. Nevertheless, both Justice Isaacs and Lord Mance felt obliged to reject the Maycock defendants’ constitutional challenges to the wiretap law.

– Read the entire article at Reason.