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II. Surveillance policy

Communications surveillance

Several laws control spying or surveillance by private parties. Article 315 of Taiwan's Criminal Code states that a person who, without reason, opens or conceals a sealed letter, or other sealed document belonging to another, may be punished under the law.1 Accounts of voyeurism and scandalous revelations in the media prompted the legislature to strengthen the wording of Article 315 to include the eavesdropping or videotaping of private conversations, moments, or activities for commercial gain.2

The 1996 Telecommunications Law states, "Unauthorized third parties shall not receive, record or use other illegal means to infringe upon the secrets of telecommunications enterprises and telecommunications messages. A telecommunications enterprise should take proper and necessary measures to protect its telecommunications security."3 The Act was amended in October 1999 to increase penalties for illegal telephone taps to TWD 1.5 million (~USD 44,000) and up to five years in prison.4

Illegal wiretapping by the government has been a widespread problem in Taiwan for years. Previously, under the martial law-era Telecommunications Surveillance Act and Code of Criminal Procedure, judicial and security authorities simply had to file a written request with a prosecutor's office to wiretap a suspect's telephone calls. In June 1999, the Parliament approved the Communication Protection and Surveillance Act to impose stricter guidelines on when and how wiretaps can be used, although they can still be approved for broad reasons such as "national security" and "social order." The act also requires telecommunications providers to assist law enforcement and sets technical requirements for interception.5

According to the United States State Department, the Taiwan Ministry of Justice (MOJ) and the police use wiretapping as an investigative tool. According to the MOJ prosecution department, the annual number of approved wiretappings has steadily increased from 19,845 in 2004 to 24,117 in 2005, and to 25,556 through November 2006.6 In an effort to stem this problem, the MOJ is pushing legislators to transfer wiretap authority from prosecutors to judges.7

The Communication Protection and Surveillance Act also regulates wiretapping by the intelligence services, which previously operated without any supervision. In October 2000, Chin Huei-chu, a People First Party legislator, accused the Military Intelligence Bureau (MIB) of conducting political surveillance domestically. The MIB denied the allegations, saying that all intelligence work was directed solely at mainland China.8 Many legislators also claim that the National Security Bureau (NSB), which oversees national law enforcement, routinely monitors the phone conversations of politicians. This charge is also denied by the NSB.9 The Ministry of Defense also denied wiretapping politicians’ phone conversations.10

In 2004, the Government Information Office (GIO) issued the Internet Content Rating Regulation, applicable to all Internet access, content, and service providers. Under the new regulation, content providers must post a label for websites inappropriate for persons of certain ages as categorized by law. Platform providers must institute a ratings system and ISPs shall remove offending content or restrict access by minors to that content. The government shall "assist" by monitoring Internet content.11