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Libya's new rulers fire up Gaddafi's surveillance tech

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Libya's transitional government has quietly reactivated the surveillance technology it inherited from the Gaddafi regime, the Wall Street Journal reports.

The technology is been used to track the mobile phone calls and online communications of Gaddafi loyalists. Government officials told the paper that they have seen dozens of phone or Internet-chat transcripts, one of which featured a phone call between Saadi Gaddafi, exiled son of the former dictator, and a supporter inside Libya. Saadi Gaddafi fled to Niger during the course of the civil war that ousted his father.

Libya's caretaker government has established created two national-security agencies—Preventive Security and Foreign Security. Salem al-Hasi, 50, a former language teacher at a US military college, has been appointed as Libya's new national intelligence chief. Hasi's deputy, Mustafa Nu'ah, denied claims that the transitional government was using electronic surveillance."We don't have the staff or know-how to do this," Nu'ah told the WSJ.

However this account is contradicted by two unnamed government officials and a high-ranking security official who spoke to the paper. Security briefings routinely feature transcripts of phone calls or internet chats. It's unclear how many people are under surveillance but the National Transitional Council might be particularly inclined to switch on in the run-up to elections, due to take place this weekend.

Surveillance equipment was sold to the Gaddafi regime by suppliers in France, China and South Africa. During the civil war the equipment went unused – until last autumn when it was allegedly reactivated. According to the WSJ's sources, some of the interception equipment was removed from the offices of Libya's main ISP since the regime's fall.

Adel al-Morsi, commander of the Tripoli branch office of Preventative Security, told the WSJ that he classifies schoolteachers who don't allow children to sing the new national anthem and businessmen who became rich in the Gaddafi era as threats – along with the obvious suspects, former Gaddafi officials. Those with ties the former regime have not been allowed to contest the upcoming elections, resulting in the exclusion of 320 potential candidates, or 7 per cent of the field.

Some activists are concerned that the use of surveillance equipment without judicial oversight or a legal framework represents a slide towards authoritarianism.

"In a few short months, the NTC has shown a pattern of creating bad laws that breach human rights," says Elham Saudi, head of the nongovernmental group Lawyers for Justice in Libya, a group that helped gather evidence of possible war crimes by Gaddafi. "The lack of respect for rule of law is astonishing."

Gaddafi maintained a police state, featuring arbitrary arrests and torture, during his 42 years in power at home, while employing assassins to kill political dissident abroad. In interviews with Arab language newspapers, Hasi has set out an agenda to reform Libya's security apparatus. He described turning Libya's security operations "into civilised services at the service of the country, based on the protection of the country and the citizens." ®

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