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?”
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.