Editorial for 22 March: What is the goal of fingerprinting?

According to the latest government estimates, work permit
holders (including government contract employees and foreigners working in
Cayman as an operation of law) number around 20,000 people.

The total permanent resident population of the Cayman
Islands puts the territory at somewhere around 55,000 people.

Supporters of the fingerprinting initiative consistently
make the argument that such a measure is needed for the security and safety of
the islands.

If that is the case, then why is government’s proposal only
seeking to obtain fingerprints from those individuals who make up less than
half of the entire resident population?

This newspaper does not believe we should start
fingerprinting cruise ship tourists. It is also somewhat undesirable from a
tourism standpoint to start fingerprinting airline visitors on arrival,
although if this can be done in an effective and efficient manner then
arguments could be made for it.

However, if we are going to fingerprint work permit holders
as a condition of those individuals obtaining the right to work in the Cayman
Islands, the territory might as well start fingerprinting permanent residents,
spouses of Caymanians, students here on visas and also Caymanians. If safety is
really the issue, then as a practical matter, similar security measures should
be taken with the entire permanent or semi-permanent population.

In November 2010, this newspaper ran a poll that found more
than 61 per cent of those voting believed fingerprinting only foreign workers
would not reduce crime in the Cayman Islands. The largest segment of voters
from that poll – 205 people or 34.9 per cent – believed there would be a
reduction in crime only if the government fingerprinted everyone. The second
largest segment of respondents – 155 people or 26.4 per cent – thought
fingerprinting only foreign workers wouldn’t reduce crime because the wrong
people would be fingerprinted.

If we are indeed going to take this step as a territory,
let’s take it for all residents. Otherwise, we fear it will end up being a
futile effort.





  1. Having worked in Forensics and as a Criminal/Insurgent Forensic profiler for the Military in a combat zone (and being a previous member of the RCIPS). I can honestly attest to the importance of having a reliable electronic biometric database. While one may argue that creating this database may violate a persons civil liberties, another might say that the database would aide in the reduction false accusations creating more liberty.

    If the Cayman Islands is going to create this database, it needs to be done at all vetting sites for ALL residents on the island, not just one subset.

    The benefits of an active biometric database, do not include the reduction of crime. It does include a higher solved criminal case rate based on biometric evidence. The Biometric system, would aide the RCIPS if they had the capabilities to maintain such a project.

    The down sides to this system is that is will be expensive to implement, both in regards of equipment and training. This is important as use of the system with unsatisfactory training will result in poor latent prints, convoluted minutia points and possibly false accusations and convictions.

    It will also dwell on liberty violations because a person going to renew their license or permit could create a positive match… this would be unacceptable. Collection points must have the sole purpose of feeding the overarching biometric database. Then the RCIPS would have the responsibility of deciphering possible matches based on their case load.

    As with the use of ABIS (the Automated Biometric Identification System) and IAFIS (the Integrated Automatic Fingerprint Identification System) the systems create a positive match based on successive matching of minutia points. Then two trained persons have to independently verify the match, before it can be used as evidence.

    This is a long expensive road to be on… But if the Cayman Islands is going to do it, it needs to do it correctly. The Forensic Unit that works with this biometric data should be independent of the RCIPS.

    Christopher Rice

  2. Christopher

    Thanks for your expert and professional information and advice on this very technical and touchy issue.

    Please read my most recent comments on a different but related topic; you can take that as a fair assessment of the current capabilities of the RCIPS.

    Let me use an analogy with which you may be familiar and relate to, as a military professional.

    I am a practicing martial artist of the traditional Japanese schools; the very old ryu of Japan that pre-dates modern styles of karate and judo by many centuries; I’ve been working at this for almost 20 years now.

    One foundation tenent of traditional practice is reptition of the basics repeatedly until they become second nature; no advance study or application can take place without this solid foundation of the basics…in anything.

    If the RCIPS cannot solve even the most standard of common, everyday crimes that are overwhelming Cayman today using the trained basics of police work…how in heavens name would anyone expect them to handle an advanced technological system such as this…

    As well as deal with the international and local human rights issues that undoubtedly come into the equation as well ?

    It is not the rate of crime that is most worrying in Cayman; it is the ratio of solved/unsolved crimes that is most worrying, particularly those of mysteriously missing persons…this is truly frightening.

    Using this method as a local crime-fighting measure WILL NOT stem or solve crime in Cayman; what it will do is focus on a certain target group, while leaving others free to operate with less scrutiny.

    If the Cayman Islands is on an upgraded alert for terrorist activities, then that is another matter altogether; civil liberties are now being threatened and even suspended in the USA and Great Britian under these conditions but…

    As of now, there is no direct evidence that this is the case in Cayman.

    Even these major countries are hesitant to be creating a bio-metric database of its citizens fingerprints because of the major threat of abuse of the information.

    What will come next…a legal, mandatory demand for our DNA ?…and then, what…

    Where will it all end?

  3. On more thing. Went I was working to implement the Biometric data system in Afghanistan we used two different approaches, offensive and defensive.

    The defensive approach, involves static positions and vetting sites. It is a slow and long process in dataset production. In the case of Cayman, it would be subject to application rates for IDs, Visas and Permits. So, if the Cayman Islands drivers license is valid for 5 years and the driving population (being people over the age of 17) is around 80% plus or minus, it would potentially take 5 years to obtain an around 80%.

    The offensive applicaiton, would be collected by the police and immigration during arrests and in support of investigations. This would be the fastest to accure a specific demographic; however, it is not a significant representation of the entire population.

    Again, I have worked with biometric and forensic profiling for some years now. Biometrics are a great tool, however you have to account for criminal adaptation.

    Running a system like this requires specific training and certifications, not just some one week course will suffice. That has to be taken into consideration as well.

    While I am in full support of this system. It will be expensive, and with the current financial situation of the Government, it might not be feasible.

    Christopher Rice

  4. Firery,

    I agree. I havent written in the past about modernization and professionalizing the RCIPS, as the RCIPS is severely outdated.

    Abuse of biometric data is a huge conern! This is why a national biometric database must be controlled by a seperate entity, and its staff must have high clearance, be under constant scrutiny to maintain professionalism, and be highly trained.

    Civil liberties will play an issue in this development with the enactment of the Civil Rights Bill.

    DNA is a touchy subject. Its collection for anything other than directly supporting investigations would require a lot of debate and discussion to implement in accordance with any laws and the constitution.

    Christopher Rice

  5. Simple answer to your headline – more jobs for the boys.

    On islands without even a viable crime lab, where very basic roadside forensic tests still have to go to the USA or Jamaica, this is only going to work with the importation of outside law enforcement consultants and what happened last time?