In this article, Sami Ben Gharbia, from the Tunisian citizen journalism website, Nawaat.org, discusses a recent investigation they carried out after receiving leaked phone call logs of one of the country’s most influential businessmen, Khamal Lataif. Their investigation revealed the close connections Lataif has with politicians, the security agencies and the press.
The recent leaks by Edward Snowden have revealed, among other things, that all telephone calls in the US are logged and are made accessible to the US National Security Agency. But what if rights activists − people advocating for open and transparent governments and corporations − were able to turn the tables on this kind of surveillance? Sami Ben Gharbia is a Tunisian human rights campaigner and is the co-founder of Nawaat.org. Earlier this year, Sami and his colleagues published their investigations into phone logs that had been leaked to them. In this video presentation from Camp, Sami explains what they did with the leaked data and what they found.
Sami says that their use of this leaked data did raise some ethical issues. “There is for sure a debate around privacy. But we didn’t publish his private phone calls with his sister or with his wife or sons or daughters; we just published something related to political life and the media. For us, as long as the person is acting in the public sphere he is an actor, sometimes a major actor, sometimes a small actor, but still he is an actor that needs to deconstructed, understood and written about.” Sami says what most encouraged them to investigate Lataif’s calls was knowledge of Lataif’s role in supporting the dictator Ben Ali, but also rumours about his ongoing power and influence in the new government. Also, the leaked data was not for a random period of time: it was specifically for the period just before the fall of Ben Ali and during the establishment of the new democratic government. The investigation received significant coverage in the Tunisian press and the result was that Lataif and other public figures named in their investigation were forced to explain the rationale for their calls.
At the same time Sami is aware of the limitations of their findings. “We did our investigation based on 10% only of the dataset that we had. For sure it’s not enough, for sure it lacks accuracy, but at least it tries to ask questions about his phone conversations and relationships with the media, political and security agencies.” Since releasing their investigation findings, Nawaat.org has been provided with many more phone numbers to check against the call logs and many of these have been matched. Sami says they plan to release more comprehensive, second analysis of the call logs some time in the future.
Video presentation by Sami Ben Gharbia (@ifikra). Additional writing and interview by Tanya Notley.
- Visit the Tunisian citizen journalism website Nawaat.org