DSI backs bid for prison phonetaps

February 5, 2012

The Department of Special Investigation has seconded a government proposal to tap the phones of prison inmates suspected of dealing drugs from behind bars.

The proposal was floated by Deputy Prime Minister Chalerm Yubamrung, although he said the legal aspects must be studied first.

DSI chief Tarit Pengdith said his is among four agencies assigned by the Justice Ministry to rein in the drug trade involving prison inmates.

The other agencies are the Corrections Department, the Office of the Narcotics Control Board and the Anti-Money Laundering Office.

The DSI can proceed with phone-tapping by invoking Section 25 of the law governing investigation of special criminal cases.

Under the section, the department is the authorised phone-tapper and can eavesdrop using the so-called I2 programme which picks up mobile phone signals inside and in areas surrounding prisons.

Mobile phones are commonly smuggled in to prisons and some inmates use them to conduct illicit drug deals from behind bars.

Some inmates are the leaders of major drug rings in the country and still have input into the trade after they are incarcerated.

Mr Tarit said the I2 programme provides crucial information to link drug dealers to each other and to their customers.

“The I2 can be employed immediately to detect the number of mobile phones which are being used to make calls from within the prison,” he said.

Once the phones are identified, the department will seek the court’s approval to tap them.

The information obtained from tapping would help widen investigations by identifying other suspects.

“This way we will have a better idea of where the drug networks are based,” Mr Tarit said.

At the same time, the DSI will check the money trail of prison inmates implicated in the drug trade.

Mr Tarit said that in the past the DSI mainly acted on requests of other state agencies to conduct phone-tapping.

Now, the department will carry out the task of its own accord, although it relies chiefly on the Corrections Department’s help in supplying information on targeted inmates.The DSI’s data pool of drug suspects is limited, he said.

But Human Rights Watch country coordinator Sunai Phasuk said phone-tapping in prisons does not tackle the problem of the prison drug trade at its roots.

“If the Corrections Department worked efficiently, the phone-tapping would be unnecessary,” he said.

“If the department worked more efficiently, even the super-max [maximum security] prison would not be needed.”

The Corrections Department plans to build a so-called super-max prison, equipped with high-tech security to house the most serious drug inmates.

Mr Chalerm disclosed yesterday that over the past four months, anti-drug agencies have seized more than 16 million speed pills, 500kg of crystal methamphetamine, 200kg of heroin and three tonnes of marijuana. Authorities have also confiscated property worth over 600 million baht from drug dealers.

Mr Chalerm also said some major drug traffickers have global connections. He said he plans to discuss efforts to prevent cross-border drug trafficking with U Myo Myint, the Myanmarese ambassador to Thailand.

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