Phone tapping: Who has the oversight?

 

The motivation for and oversight of Cayman’s new telecommunications interception regulations – the rules that govern how and when police can monitor telephone, email and postal communications – is being questioned by the leader of the country’s opposition political party.  

“There is a great deal of reliance placed on trust with [these regulations],” Opposition Leader Alden McLaughlin said last week.  

The regulations, approved by Cabinet members earlier this month, allow Royal Cayman Islands Police Service employees to intercept private messages of individuals for specific purposes. Those include: the interests of national security, preventing or detecting serious crime, averting an imminent threat to human life, for circumstances that fall within the scope of international mutual assistance agreements, or to safeguard the economic well-being of the Cayman Islands.  

Any such action by a police officer must be authorised by the governor via a warrant and only RCIPS employees are allowed to act upon those warrants.  

Mr. McLaughlin said he does not oppose the idea of telephone tapping or email snooping in principle, if it is for the purposes of protecting life or solving serious crime.  

However, in the opposition leader’s view, there is too much left vague under the new regulations for them to act as a proper balance to the governor’s warrant-issuing power.  

For example, one reason for the governor to issue a communications interception warrant would be to “safeguard the economic well-being of the Cayman Islands”.  

“This is something that the governor would not have any responsibility or remit for,” he said. “It is incongruous and bordering on the ridiculous actually.”  

If wiretapping was authorised for economic protection reasons, then Mr. McLaughlin argues that perhaps the manager of the Cayman Islands Monetary Authority or the director of tourism might be better suited to make the decision.  

Mr. McLaughlin said he was also concerned that the directors of other law enforcement agencies like customs and immigration must go to the police to issue warrants.  

“Why does everything have to be routed through the governor and the commissioner of police?” 

Oversight committee 

The regulations approved by Cabinet create an appointed committee, called the Interception of Communications Audit Committee, whose job it will be to conduct audits of various interceptions carried out under warrants issued by the governor.  

The committee consists of five members including a local Justice of the Peace (who will serve as chairperson), a retired judge, magistrate or lawyer, the chief officer of the government Portfolio of Internal and External Affairs, an information technology specialist who is employed by government, and a technical expert in the area of communications interception who is from a law enforcement agency outside Cayman.  

“We tried to get the persons we believed you’d have the most confidence in,” said Portfolio chief officer Franz Manderson.  

The committee members serve “at the please of” the Cayman Islands Cabinet.  

Cayman’s governor, who is appointed by the Queen of England, sets the agenda for Cabinet which is made up of elected government ministers. The governor is also the only individual who is allowed to issue communications interception warrants under the new regulations.  

RCIPS officials declined to comment directly on the regulations, but the Caymanian Compass has learned that proposals to create these rules have been under discussion for the last 14-15 months.  

Governor Duncan Taylor’s office has denied persistent rumours that the wiretapping regulations were instituted for the use of a special UK police team that was supposed to have arrived in Cayman in late July. Mr. Taylor said there was no such team.  

“The Governor is not aware of any police officers from the UK or any other jurisdiction being in the Cayman Islands at present or having been in the Cayman Islands recently other than those who are regular members of the RCIPS,” read a statement from Mr. Taylor’s office. 

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4 COMMENTS

  1. Regardless of what the governor is saying to the people at this time, I have reason to believe that wire tapping, email snooping and interception of messaging etc, has ALREADY been in operation for some time in the Cayman Islands. There have been way too many incidents and unanswered questions. Reports of comments by readers in local media forums being intercepted, redirected, or disappear and unable to access some Cayman based or US/Cayman based media websites.

    Maybe the good governor can explain who was authorized or not authorized to act and take such steps violating the rights of the People of The Cayman Islands.
    Why try to hold a discussion on this matter at this time when its obvious that government or some other unauthorized entity has been doing this for at least a year or several months well.Then it is government’s responsibility to investigate to find out who has been acting unlawfully invading the privacy of the people of the Cayman Islands without reasonable cause and without the support of appropriate legislation.
    When these people come back seeking retribution for unlawful invasion of privacy is the public purse prepared to pay up?

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  2. I’m all for it, especially under these stipulations. Now, if there could just be serious laws put in place where the Employees of phone service providers cannot snoop in anyone’s email, etc. on a whim, that would be getting somewhere.

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  3. This is serious and people don’t know it. The Governor is working for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and they have sent spies into Cayman, to spy out offshore activities. They already bugged the Courts in 2003 and remember operation tempura. You would have to be naive to think that they will not abuse the privelege of tapping into people’s phones and computers. CCTV’s are already install and everyone thinks that they were installed for the criminals only. Guess what? The UK’s intentions is to watch us and ensure they have control over us if ever we protest against the government. This is scary, and Alden has a valid argument. How come our judges were excluded?

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  4. B.T., it is very clear why our judges are excluded; the UK does not trust our judges. Also, the UK doesn’t want any oversight on its own deeds which they do in the dark. I hope the judges express their concerns.

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