THE CORRIDOR - Is Parliament bugged?

THE CORRIDOR - Is Parliament bugged?

There are dead-serious problems concerning the “privacy of personal life and communication” in Ankara at the moment. Video tapes are pouring in as records of private phone conversations, obtained through wiretapping, are making the rounds. Cyber attacks targeting politicians are continuing incessantly. There are as many records that have been obtained illegally as there are records that have been obtained legally and leaked.

Video or audio tapes have both become evidence in court cases and have been used for blackmail. Some of the Nationalist Movement Party, or MHP, candidates have had to resign or withdraw due to sex tapes featuring them.

Since these are cyber attacks, everyone is trying to gain protection either through personal or corporate measures. While jammer-like equipment to stop the transfer of phone and video conversations are being used by political parties, parliamentary deputies are choosing similar equipment sold on the market.

There are concerns about being bugged even in top offices in the capital.

Former Parliament Speaker Köksal Toptan told me that he had installed a small apparatus on his cell phone to block wiretapping but that he took it off at a later time.

The bylaw of the Directorate for Protection was changed with the arrival of the current Parliament Speaker Mehmet Ali Şahin to office. Şahin’s room is searched for a bug every morning according to a new regulation.

I witnessed random checks against wiretapping with the request of deputies in Parliament.

It came out during a conversation with the main opposition Republican People’s Party, or CHP, Adana deputy and information technology expert Tacidar Seyhan that there are some people keeping audio or video tape records on deputies in their offices outside Parliament. “We have a device spotting such equipment. We made a scan and found some audio or video recorders in several influential figures’ offices. But we couldn’t find out who did this,” Seyhan said.

Let me remind you that some of these names are nowadays dealing with “blackmail tapes” on the Internet.

In this legislative term, some deputies complaining about being wiretapped applied to the Parliament Presidency and asked that some measures be taken. Seyhan applied to the Parliament Presidency in January 2010 and said deputies might be easily wiretapped because of IMSI catchers which were introduced to facilitate cell phone use in Parliament.

Paranoia in Parliament has reached a level that at one time even some digital phones were returned to make wiretapping easier.

Although the Parliament Presidency said, “We searched for it and wiretapping is impossible;” it was not found convincing enough by some deputies.

I also witness many deputies taking out the batteries of their cell phones and then engaging in private conversations.

Even fire alarms cause concerns in Parliament. Several deputies got suspicious of red lights on top of the alarm apparatus in the main building and in the Public Relations section and have asked for their removal. There were even a few deputies who were barely convinced that the equipment was for fire alarms only.

But are deputies are really being bugged?

No one has solid evidence! But given the measures that have and will be taken, “serious doubts” do obviously exist.

The foundations of the new Public Relations building in Parliament were laid a week ago. An 11-story “smart building” will be ready in three years. A communication data network covering digital phone devices for 550 deputies, secretaries and advisers will also be set up inside the premises. And with the help of this “smart technology,” suspicions about being bugged will be removed, as I was told this special data center will not be reachable from outside.

According to civil servants, wiretapping landlines will be impossible under the new system. For mobile phones and conversations inside rooms, a new technology similar to jammers or a screening method is being considered. With this, it will not be easy to wiretap deputies in the new building.

But until the construction of the new building is completed, the old technology will be used. For this reason, it is useful for new deputies in Parliament to be careful while speaking but not to get carried away by doubt.