Secrecy rules changed, not eliminated

Requirements that Cayman Islands civil servants keep certain government information under wraps will remain in local law, according to changes assented to by Governor Stuart Jack earlier this month.

However, there will be exceptions made to long-standing secrecy rules following the advent of Cayman’s Freedom of Information Law.

According to amendments made to the Public Service Management Law, signed by Governor Jack on 5 November, public servants are not allowed to disclose information that comes into their possession in an official capacity ‘unless authorised or allowed to do so under…the Freedom of Information Law, 2007 or by any other law.’

The FOI Law contains two areas which conflicted directly with previous civil servant secrecy provisions.

First, the FOI Law requires government information managers to respond to public enquiries within 30 days. Those employees have to speak with people requesting information and release records if they are determined to be public documents or information.

Second, section 50 of the FOI Law allows civil servants to engage in good faith whistle-blowing – the reporting of wrongdoing – and makes it illegal for government officials to retaliate against those workers.

In addition to changing the civil servant code of conduct section of the Public Service Management Law, the following provision was added:

‘The (Cabinet) may establish policies and procedures for the release to the public of records that may or may not be divulged under the Freedom of Information Law so long as those policies or procedures do not prevent the divulging of records that must be divulged under that or any other law.’

One of the policies that will be created regarding the release of public information is the Data Protection Bill. That proposal is being researched by members of government’s FOI Unit.

The Data Protection Bill is essentially being created to guide government employees on what personal information is protected from release under the FOI Law.

‘Data protection will trump FOI,’ FOI Unit analyst Aubrey Bodden said during a recent interview.

The FOI Law currently defines personal information, but allows certain personal records to be released as long as it is determined to be in the public’s interest.

For instance, Information Commissioner Jennifer Dilbert recently ruled that the specific salaries of high-ranking civil service managers were personal information, but she said that information should be released because it was in the public interest to do so.

Ms Bodden said the Data Protection Bill will give information managers a better idea of what should and should not be released under open records requests.