Albania Forms Commission On Mystery Spy Device


By Fatjona Mejdini

After claims broke in May that police had got hold of a mysterious device that could intercept communications, opposition MPs have won their demand for a parliamentary commission of inquiry.

Albania’s parliament on Thursday approved the request of 35 opposition MPs to create a commission of inquiry into the mysterious electronic device “IMSI Catcher”, which some claim has been used to illegally intercept communications.

The opposition accuses the Interior Minister, Saimir Tahiri, and police officials of using the device – given to them by Italian police as part of a training exercise – to intercept the communications of heads of institutions, leaders of parties, businessmen and journalists.

The temporary commission will be comprised of 11 members – five MPs from the opposition and six from the ruling majority.

In their request, the opposition MPs emphasized that the aim of the commission was to prevent such cases in future and identify those responsible for the misdeed.

“We want to obtain knowledge of the full legal documentation used for this device … to monitor the concrete behaviour and actions of the authorities included in this case, in order to shed light on this scandal,” the request of the MPs reads.

The prosecution already opened investigations into the case when the affair broke in May, while more information is still being gathered.

An official source from the General Prosecution told BIRN that their investigation is continuing.

“The prosecutors are waiting for the Italian authorities to reply to some requests for documentation that were made to them,” the source told BIRN.

When news of the use of “IMSI Catcher” broke in May, both the opposition and President Bujar Nishani accused the authorities of breaching the constitution.

The head of Albania’s Information Service, SHISH, Visho Ajazi, on May 19 told the parliamentary commission on security that the mysterious device that had entered in the country for police training purposes could pose a risk to national security.

But Interior Minister Saimir Tahiri and the police insisted the device was not a piece of wiretapping equipment, although through it, telephone numbers used in a given area could be identified.

Tahiri later mocked the opposition allegations, while at the police fair in Tirana on June 7, among the equipment on display was a black box captioned: “Is there a wiretapping device in here???”.

The Italian police in a letter to Albanian authorities, sent from senior police officer Gianpaolo Zambonini, backed the stand of Minister Tahiri, assuring that the device was not able to intercept communications.

“The system is not able to carry out any kind of audio, SMS or data interception,” the Italian police letter read.

Balkan Insight

The Balkan Insight (formerly the Balkin Investigative Reporting Network, BIRN) is a close group of editors and trainers that enables journalists in the region to produce in-depth analytical and investigative journalism on complex political, economic and social themes. BIRN emerged from the Balkan programme of the Institute for War & Peace Reporting, IWPR, in 2005. The original IWPR Balkans team was mandated to localise that programme and make it sustainable, in light of changing realities in the region and the maturity of the IWPR intervention. Since then, its work in publishing, media training and public debate activities has become synonymous with quality, reliability and impartiality. A fully-independent and local network, it is now developing as an efficient and self-sustainable regional institution to enhance the capacity for journalism that pushes for public debate on European-oriented political and economic reform.

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