The Cayman Islands government’s plan to begin installing closed-circuit television cameras in public rights of way by next month is on shaky legal ground at best, according to lawyers with the country’s Human Rights Commission.
In a statement sent to the Caymanian Compass last week, the commission – which includes a former attorney general, a managing partner at Campbells law firm, and a former member of the team that negotiated Cayman’s Constitution with the UK – essentially said that a code of practice for the public CCTV is simply not enough.
“The Cayman Islands government should not operate CCTV cameras in the public right of way without binding primary legislation…in conjunction with a code of practice,” read a two-page letter sent in response to the newspaper’s questions by HRC Chairman Richard Coles. “It is the perspective of the HRC that a code of practice seeks to guide operators with respect to acting in accordance with obligations mandated by law. For this reason, a code of practice is not a valid substitute for a binding and enforceable law.”
The commission indicated it could not fully respond to questions about what would occur if CCTV evidence taken in a public right of way was used in court without governing legislation, stating that the attorney general’s office would have to determine those procedures.
In August 2010, the commission sent a lengthy response to initial proposals for a CCTV code of practice. Mr. Coles said the government portfolio directing the project has acknowledged receiving that letter, but that it has not yet responded to any of the commission’s concerns, including the development of a law to govern CCTV.
“The HRC…is currently unaware as to the timeline proposed by government for releasing the [code of practice] in the public arena,” Mr. Coles wrote. “Operating the CCTV system without a publicly available code of practice (passed by Cabinet) would generally not be considered a best practice or indicative of good governance. The absence of even a code of guidance will make accountability extremely difficult.”
For instance, the commission points out that without a binding and enforceable law, the CCTV system might be abused and the public would, in that case, have no recourse for those issues.
“The HRC is unaware as to…the avenues in which the public may seek effective remedy if the government is suspected to have, or found to have, acted in contravention of the code of practice,” Mr. Coles wrote.
Portfolio of Internal and External Affairs Deputy Chief Officer Eric Bush has said that the government’s plan is to conduct routine audits of the CCTV system and to include disciplinary measures for civil servants who abuse the cameras. Mr. Bush notes that local police and other law enforcement officers will have no direct control over the cameras’ operation and that those will be “passively” monitored at the 911 Emergency Centre.
Also, Mr. Bush said that government does intend to have a code of practice for use of the cameras in place by the time the first ones are installed in late March. He said there would be no corresponding legislation by then, however.
“I believe there should be a separate CCTV Law,” Mr. Bush said, adding that the portfolio has made that recommendation to police and Cabinet members.
However, discussions between the HRC and the portfolio revealed that the use and protection of CCTV was more likely to be governed within Cayman’s Data Protection Bill or in legislation being touted to replace the country’s Confidential Relationships (Preservation) Law. Mr. Bush said he was not certain when those two matters might come before the Legislative Assembly.
Some 167 closed-circuit television cameras will be going up at 60 locations around Grand Cayman starting in late March. The installation process isn’t expected to be completed until June, but Mr. Bush said the cameras should start working once they are installed. The cameras will monitor only public areas and will not be allowed to veer into private property, Mr. Bush said.
‘CCTV cameras’ actually covers three types of cameras, including fixed video cameras, pan-tilt-zoom video cameras and automatic number plate readers (which take photos of licence plates). All three will be installed at locations identified by police that will be clearly marked with signs indicating the cameras are in use.
The cameras will also transmit data to a secured storage location via either wireless or land-line connections. After that, the recordings will be kept for at least 60 days in case they are requested by police for review.
A fourth type, speed cameras, have not been purchased and will not be installed in the initial phase of the CCTV project. Mr. Bush said Cayman’s Traffic Law would have to be changed before those devices could legally be used on local roads.