The Sniffing Maelstrom

Editorial

This may be the first time that a Mauritian Prime Minister has been caught in a maelstrom of such gravity following the allegations made “in a spirit of patriotism” by the ex-CEO and long-time confidant, Sherry Singh, about instructions received from Pravind Jugnauth to allegedly allow a “third party” to access the Mauritius Telecom network with a view to installing equipment which would enable “sniffing”, interception, monitoring or recording of internet traffic to and from Mauritius and/or countries in the region. What are the real motivations of the ex-CEO of MT, who apparently had been distanced from the inner circle of the Prime Minister since 2020, are not known at this stage. But he must have weighed the gravity of his allegations before deciding to go public given the implications and the risks that any interference with our internet network poses to the proper functioning of a democratic constitutional state. In particular, there would be many questions raised about freedom of expression, and the integrity, reputation and stability of our financial system and the business and banking sectors. He would also be surely aware that unless backed by solid and concrete evidence, any groundless allegation would place him directly in the line of fire – unless he would be privy to other potentially damning evidence that could embarrass the holders of power and shield him from any form of reprisals.

All this however is a matter of speculation at this stage. What is important however is for the Prime Minister, the one ultimately responsible for the policy and decisions of the government and who has the duty to safeguard our national security and sovereignty, to reassure the population that no malicious intent was meant in his instructions to the ex-CEO of Mauritius Telecom. Neither was there an unacceptable intent to put in place a surveillance mechanism on political opponents of the regime and reassure the international community that his government is not be caught up in the middle of a technology and internet-assisted warfare involving competing powers in this part of the world.

His earlier denial of any instructions to the ex-CEO of MT to allow a “third party” access to the Mauritius Telecom network, to be followed thereafter by a confirmation that his telephone conversation with Sherry Singh had only to do with the conduct of a survey by Indian technicians at Baie Jacotet Cable Landing of the national communication system in place have not helped matters. Nor has the National Assembly’s Speaker ill-advised curtailment of any and all supplementary questions from the Leader of the Opposition to the Prime Minister during last Tuesday’s PNQ. Both have only fuelled further speculations about the real intent of the instructions of the Prime Minister.

What’s now doing the round on social media relates to the earlier promulgation of the Cybersecurity and Cybercrime Act, which received the assent of the Acting President of the Republic Eddy Boissezon in November 2021, could be another pointer that the authorities had approved of an “Information sharing agreement” between “a private entity… with a public entity regarding a critical information infrastructure”. Sec 36(2)C is of particular interest in that it allows an agreement to be entered “for the following purposes and in accordance with the critical information infrastructure policy – for the protection of national security, public safety or public interest”. However, in the absence of further information, it is unclear whether the PM’s instruction to the former MT CEO could legitimately be considered to fall under such an “information sharing agreement”. The minimal public exposure of those tractations between the two parties does however shed new light on the intents being pursued by government with the Cybersecurity and Cybercrime Act ever since the White Paper proposing internet traffic diversion had raised a furore.

At the moment, given the limited disclosures of one and the fuzzy responses of the other, we are entitled to wonder what deeper undercurrents may lurk beneath the surface waters. Had there been security lapses or breaches as alleged seemingly by the PM that justified recourse to Indian technical wizz-kids? Who would have controlled what foreign technicians would do over our network? If there had indeed been security lapses in our internet network, mature democracies might have envisaged that the PM be enabled to share such highly sensitive matter impacting our sovereign interests, obviously under total confidential protocols, with the leaders of the mainstream opposition parties, prior to any action. That might have toned down the current maelstrom that has engulfed the country.


Mauritius Times ePaper Friday 8 July 2022

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