Editorial for 21 June: The line keeps moving a little bit further . . .

Today’s front page story regarding additional closed-circuit
television cameras installed in the 911 Emergency Centre is not necessarily
emblematic of an issue that is becoming more and more pervasive around the
world; that of public and private surveillance.

Nonetheless, it is becoming a serious issue of which the
Cayman Islands should not lose sight.

There are many solid arguments to be made in favour of
keeping an eye within the 911 centre, as long as it is not done secretly. After
all, the 911 centre contains a great deal of information that must be kept
protected and confidential, including public CCTV images, as well as 911
reports to police, fire and ambulance services and other records.

However, there have been massive changes in the amount of
public overt and covert surveillance that is ongoing in our society – most of
it having occurred within the past five years.

Since 2010, well more than 200 closed-circuit television
cameras have been installed in public rights of way around Grand Cayman. The
911 centre is also operating an electronic monitoring system for individuals
who have been arrested and/or charged with crimes.

There are easily hundreds of closed-circuit surveillance
systems employed both covertly and overtly by local business operations inside
and outside of their premises. The government administration building monitors
its employees and visitors to a certain extent with closed-circuit cameras
inside the building. Government employees also have a card-swipe system that
keeps track of their attendance during the workday.

Moreover, a system of covert surveillance approved by
Cabinet now allows the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service – without needing to
apply for a warrant – to
tap the phones, or snoop the emails of pretty much anyone as long as approval
is received beforehand by the governor. The information obtained via such
methods cannot be used in court, but the system can still be used. Taking a
broader look beyond these shores, a few high-profile cases in the United States
recently have moved the line even further for the country that often praises
itself for being the most “free” society in the developed world.

One of these instances involves the tapping of several
Associated Press employees’ phones by the US Department of Justice, trying to
determine the source of a leak of information concerning a Central Intelligence
Agency operation. Another involves revelations from a former National Security
Agency analyst that the US government was essentially spying on untold numbers
of people via the Internet, mining website and other Web data in attempts to
ferret out potential terrorist plots. US security officials have argued such
efforts have been successful in foiling attempts to harm the country and its
citizens.

As the world, and this little island chain that we call
home, has gotten more crowded and more dangerous, we all have come to the
realisation that law enforcement must keep up with the technological times and
use all the resources available to help keep our communities safe.

However, the Compass never wishes to see the concerns of
safety and security overwhelm the requirement of personal privacy in a truly
democratic society. The government must always take care to balance these
competing interests.

 

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