Fingerprinting for all work permit holders

Although there have been some delays from the initial planned start date, both Royal Cayman Islands Police and Immigration Department officials have given assurances that the system for fingerprinting all work permit holders in the Cayman Islands will proceed this year.

Precisely how the system is going to work isn’t clear. But it will represent a significant change for both law enforcement officers and foreign workers – most of whom are not currently required to provide fingerprints in Cayman, unless they are arrested for or suspected of committing a crime.

RCIPS Chief Superintendent John Jones said last month that it’s hoped the fingerprinting system will be up and running by June.

“Immigration [is] going to be fingerprinting every permit holder,” Jones told a Chamber of Commerce forum in late January. “The plan is that everybody coming into the country in the future, as soon as they arrive at the airport – this is permit holders, not general visitors I might add – they will go into a machine called a live scan where their fingerprints will be recorded.”

Those fingerprint records will be able to be accessed by the police service for criminal investigative purposes. How and when that access will be allowed is not clear.

Police already maintain their own fingerprint databases and do have the ability currently to cross reference immigration records on a 24-7 basis, if needed.

But what the immigration fingerprinting system will give officers is a way to check work permit holders upon entry into the Islands.

“We will have the ability to check that with any of our outstanding crime scenes, be able to check whether they’ve been in the country before and whether they’re undesirable,” Jones said.

A US company, Cogent Systems, which provides technical equipment to the US Department of Homeland Security, has been brought in to install the fingerprinting system and to work on a more complex biometrics identification system.

Initially, the fingerprinting process was supposed to start in January. But Jones assured the Chamber audience that it would be happening soon.

Biometrics

According to bid documents published in October, the Cayman Islands government ID system for foreign workers will go well beyond just fingerprinting.

That biometric enrolment system – to be used for the verification of a work permit holder’s identity upon entry or exit at Cayman’s various ports of call – will be entered into the Immigration Department’s current records system, according to bid documents seeking proposals for such a system.

Biometrics can go well beyond fingerprinting to include face recognition, DNA, palm prints, and iris recognition. The science of biometrics can also be used to identify individuals based on certain behavioural characteristics such as typing rhythms, gait or voice recognition.

According to the 75-page request for proposal, the successful bidder would not only provide the Immigration Department with the ability to biometrically enrol work permit holders; they would also be able to upgrade and replace the current fingerprinting system used by the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service.

What types of biometric ID’s would be used here is not known. Immigration officials declined to comment for this story, citing a need to work out further contract details prior to making the matter public.

A modern Automated Fingerprint Identification System – often called AFIS – would allow police to print suspects during police field operations and integrate those fingerprints with the police mug shot database, according to the bid documents.

Moreover, the bids seek to create a system that would allow – to a certain extent – police and immigration to search each others’ identification systems.

The integration means there would be “controlled search of biometric records between the systems as may be required”.

Police Commissioner David Baines told the Chamber of Commerce audience last month the eventual hope of the RCIPS is that information will be exchanged, not only between police and immigration officials here, but with law enforcement agencies in other jurisdictions to combat potential criminal and terrorist threats.

“It makes sense in the wider identification…it makes sense you should connect it,” Baines says.

This type of information sharing among international law enforcement agencies is relatively common, says Elizabeth Sepper, a fellow at the Columbia Law School in a recent research paper for the Texas International Law Journal.

Such intelligence sharing in the post-9/11 world has become more common, if anything, its prominence has grown, Sepper argues.

“Intelligence networks can and should counter transnational threats,” she states. “[But] ultimately, intelligence agencies should be rendered accountable to the democracies they purport to serve.”

Too often, particularly with international intelligence-sharing arrangements, there are too few safeguards through legislative or public oversight, Sepper argues.

“The very concept of democracy demands that an intelligence agency be watched and held accountable by a democratic body or officials, outside of the agency itself,” she says.

Commissioner Baines has often said that the need for Caribbean law enforcement agencies to share information with each other is greater in modern times than it has ever been.

He has also pointed to US law enforcement’s enhanced efforts in closing down narcotics trafficking and illegal immigration at the Mexico border as likely to increase the threat of drugs and gun smuggling into the western Caribbean.

“If the US succeeds with what it is doing in Mexico, the traditional shipping routes in the Caribbean will be used more frequently,” the commissioner told members of the press recently, adding that cocaine trafficking is already seeing a spike in the Cayman Islands.

“There are indications now that are suggesting that the Cayman Islands is being used as a hub for the supply of significant quantities of cocaine,” he says. “The purity of the cocaine that we’ve recovered is about as pure as you’ll get. This is straight from the production areas, so we have got a problem with cocaine.”

Work permits only

Cayman Islands Immigration Law requires every foreign worker in the jurisdiction to obtain a work permit before taking up employment here.

However, foreign residents are allowed to buy property and even obtain permanent residence without the right to work, depending on how much they have invested here. Also, there are some who obtain permanent residence with a right to work if they have stayed in Cayman for longer than eight years and the government has granted them the right to permanently reside.

Questions have been raised by the public regarding why the government is focusing solely on work permit holders, who make up less than half the country’s population.

Deputy Chief Immigration Officer Gary Wong said in November that it is the department’s intention to expand the fingerprinting process.

‘This will hopefully be extended to permanent residents and people who are here on student visas,” Wong says.

According to Wong, fingerprints taken by immigration will be kept for a maximum period of seven years – the same period non-Caymanian workers who do not receive permanent resident status are allowed to continuously reside in the country.

Fingerprinting some 17,000 work permit holders who are already residing in the jurisdiction will be no small task for immigration officials.

Local resident Woody DaCosta said during an immigration meeting in West Bay in November that he really didn’t see the point of fingerprinting only work permit holders.

“To me, if you can’t fingerprint every individual embarking on the Cayman Islands, it’s almost a futile attempt. These are criminal elements that change passports, change appearance….if you don’t have the technology of fingerprinting…you’re just looking at a passport of a visitor.”

“I would strongly urge you from a citizen standpoint to make it known to the policy-makers that that is a necessity (to fingerprint everyone),” he added. “If not, I think it’s wrought with issues.”

Police clearance

A police policy that took effect in mid-April does require officers to fingerprint individuals who apply for a police clearance certificate, but that requirement is not being applied across the board.

According to Royal Cayman Islands Police Inspector Ian Yearwood, fingerprinting at the department’s Walkers Road facility is done in specific cases – generally where a great deal of time has elapsed since the individual was last on the Islands.

“Fingerprints are not taken in every case,” Inspector Yearwood says. “Fingerprints are taken when an individual has had a lengthy break off Island and then applied for a new certificate on his/her return, or when someone has lost their passport and is in possession of an affidavit and he or she has not been living here for a long period of time.”

Most work permit-holders in the Islands do have to seek police clearance here at a certain point in their tenure, but Inspector Yearwood says most of those individuals who have been continuously resident in the Islands would not need to have fingerprints taken again.

It was unclear at press time if this situation would change with the passage of the new Police Bill, which was approved last year month by the Legislative Assembly and is now awaiting the governor’s assent.

According to Section 144 of the Police Bill, anyone applying for a police clearance in the Cayman Islands – including work permit holders – would be required to provide their fingerprints to local law enforcement.

Section 144 (2) reads: “An application for a police clearance certificate shall be accompanied by, (a) a statutory declaration stating the full name, address and occupation of the applicant, including particulars of any aliases and change of name by marriage or deed poll; (b) fingerprints, and; (c) the prescribed application fee.” Inspector Yearwood said the bill, once passed into law, would only confirm what police have been doing with applicants for clearance documents since mid-April.

The Police Bill does not allow fingerprints taken for police clearance purposes to be kept by the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service.

“Where fingerprints have been taken pursuant to an application under this section, such fingerprints shall be destroyed or handed over to the applicant at his option,” section 144(5) of the Police Bill states.

The process for police clearance certificates is separate from what will be required of work permit holders under new Immigration Department requirements to fingerprint all foreign workers residing in the Islands.