Privacy, Protection, And Politicians

The Information Branch's request

The Information Branch’s request (Update: It shows on the document that it’s from summer, so apparently it’s an early request before the assassination). Courtesy of Elnashra

To hand over the telecom data to the ISF or not to hand over the telecom data to the ISF, that is the question.
Every once in a while, the same issue surfaces again. It’s a normal dilemma any country can have. It’s a choice one makes: The right to privacy or the right to protection. Handing the data can be useful to strengthen Lebanon’s security, but it’s a serious threat to our privacy and freedom.

Sehnaoui’s Call

Sehnaoui has the right and the power to refuse the ISF Information Branch’s demands. He is after all the minister of telecommunications, and the government will surely go against the Information Branch request. Instead of quietly saying no, he goes on his Facebook page with the following status:

Tonight, for the sake of our Privacy, I am calling for your support.
A call to all bloggers, e-journalists, Tweeters and Facebook Users and all members of our Social Media Community.
Our Internet Privacy as Lebanese People is at stake.
 Today I took a decision and refused a request from “Fer3 Ma3loumet” demanding content of all SMS as well as username and password of all data sessions, BBM Webmail of 4 Million Lebanese.
 This request is unacceptable, illogical and cannot be justified. We cannot solve a crime by committing another crime.
The decision is now in the hands of the Council Of Ministers and this is where I need your support.
I need you to share awareness everywhere to put pressure on all Members of the Council and stop this invasion of our Privacy.
RT, SHARE, EMAIL, BLOG. Use ANY means you find fit to say “As a Lebanese Citizen I refuse to give up on my Internet Privacy”

Now as you can see, Sehnaoui is trying to make himself the ultimate defender of privacy and the spokesman of freedom. In a way he’s showing himself  like the persecuted minister that’s alone out there, in the council of ministers (as if it’s not full of FPM allies), to defend the last right of the Lebanese citizen. And that’s a couple of months before the Lebanese elections. But Sehnaoui’s not to blame. Because M14 aren’t innocent either. They are trying to show themselves as the faction of the Lebanese that wants justice no matter what. For them, having access to tons and tons of Facebook passwords, emails, SMS can help the Information Branch of finding the assassins of Wissam AL-Hassan. To make things clearer, every Lebanese party is now taking a human right to defend, six months before the elections. Future Movement chose Justice, while the FPM took what was available: Privacy. There is definitely a compromise that can  be reached so that our privacy and security won’t be harmed. But the parties prefer to fight for sometime on the issue, perhaps because they’re seeking electoral relevance.
It’s Always  About Corruption
What truly scares the politicians that don’t want the data to be handled is not the privacy of the Lebanese. It’s their privacy. The Lebanese constitution guarantees MPs judicial immunity so they can speak freely. God knows what can happen to the telecom data once handled to the Information Branch. Some MPs aren’t angels, and some officers of the IB aren’t angels either. They can use the telecom data to blackmail MPs or politicians in case they find out that they have an extramarital affair. That’s just a simple example of what might happen.
My Two Cents
In 1970, when Suleiman Frangieh and Saeb Salem shrank the influence of the Second Bureau, they were viewed as the leaders that freed Lebanon from the mini Shehabist military dictatorship. Five years later, they were regarded as indirectly responsible for the start of the civil war. They took down the state’s main intelligence branch, which made it a lot more easier for the militias to start forming and for the Palestinians to have a free hand. In a way, giving privacy back was a precursor of a civil war. 42 years later we’re still facing the same issues, except that this time it’s about explosions and assassinations and not civil war. But the dilemma is still there: The right to privacy or the right to security.
If you’re asking yourself what side you should be supporting, just imagine the worst scenario.
Would you prefer a dictatorship or a civil war?


  1. ISF never asked for “tons and tons of Facebook passwords, emails, SMS” (that was what Sehnaoui pretended) .. They only asked for SMS activity (and not the content of the SMS) for the period surrounding El Hassan’s assassination, and only for Mount Lebanon and Beirut’s region.


  2. If you check one of the initial documents [link:, it ‘s clear that they wanted everything (Facebook…) at first (In the Summer, check the date). Things are a bit different this time, because the minister confirmed and the ISF denied the internet-facebook stuff. So you never know what they wanted (unless there’s an official document this time that I didn’t spot) . And for the SMS content, they did ask for it this time [Link:
    And even SMS for two governorates in two month is still a big number, at least for the advocates of privacy.


  3. Dictatorship and civil war are equally bad choices; not least because the one usually ends up being the “solution” to the other. So, it’s an unacceptable proposition. As you say yourself, there is a compromise and that’s what has to be found. The info branch needs to be able to get a hold of relevant data to solve crimes (such as general mobile activity in an area), but it should never be able to access personal data without cause to suspect that user. There is absolutely NO reason why they should need all the content for even one governorate, let alone two. If everyone in Beirut and Mt. Lebanon is a suspect, then let them apply for 2 million individual warrants.


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