Minister denies prison spying on inmates

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Justice Minister Stephie Dracos on Wednesday refuted allegations by a Cypriot MEP over intrusive surveillance practices at the Nicosia central prisons, calling them “unsubstantiated”.

AKEL MEP George Georgiou had informed the European Parliament of alleged intentions to carry out surveillance at the prisons using spyware to hack mobile phones used within the facility.

Georgiou referred to a leaked letter from the Justice Ministry, in which Dracos had allegedly requested that the prison’s department upgrade and use surveillance software rather than jamming communications.

The MEP accused Dracos of instructing the prison to upgrade the existing software, including the activation of automatic surveillance, which would record data about phone devices, sim cards, date and time of calls and locations.

In her response, Dracos said the issue of jamming communications was raised during a meeting attended by ministers, the commissioner for communications, the chief of police and the prison governor.

“The publications, which allege that I promoted the monitoring of communication content instead of just disabling or tracing them, do not correspond in any way to reality,” said Dracos in a statement.

In her statement, the Justice Minister argued: “In this context, it was decided to upgrade the system so that the deactivation also covers frequencies that did not exist at that implementation stage”.

Dracos said the mobile phone deactivation system was in operation since the summer of 2020, and authorities had been looking into ways of bringing the system up to date with technological advances.

“A contract for the system’s upgrade has already been signed and is in the process of being implemented and is expected to be completed next month”.

Based on what was agreed, said Dracos, Transport Minister Yiannis Karousos had recorded the functions the jamming system should have in a letter.

She argued her actions were taken following the legal opinion of Attorney General George Savvides.

Dracos said that actions decided will require broader coordination, which is why she intends to meet the Central Prison’s governor Anna Aristotelous.

“In the light of reservations on behalf of the prison’s management, the opinions of the legal service, the commissioner for the protection of personal data, and the Communications Ministry responsible for the installation of the system have been requested and received.”

“The necessary system will be installed, enabling the prison management to effectively enforce the law and prison regulations regarding the use of mobile phones within the prison area.”