Keen to quell public concern about plans for a system of secret police wiretaps, Cayman Islands Governor Helen Kilpatrick said Wednesday that she was comfortable with the legislation that created the system.
“If you’re not a serious criminal, then your information will not be looked at in any way,” Governor Kilpatrick said. “Unless you’re involved in very serious crime, you don’t have anything to be concerned about.”
Regulations attached to the Information and Communications Technology Authority Law – approved in August 2011 by Cayman Islands Cabinet members – allow “any person employed by the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service to intercept a message in relation to a matter or person” for the purposes of gathering intelligence.
The interception of the message – which can include any form of communication, such as telephones, post, email and text messages – must be authorized by a warrant issued directly from Cayman’s governor. The warrant would have to be addressed to the RCIPS commissioner, who can then authorize a police service employee to execute it.
There is no judicial review of those warrants prior to their issuance. However, any information uncovered via the use of such telephone tapping or email snooping methods would not be available for use in court.
Ms Kilpatrick pointed out that an oversight committee – yet to be formed – will be kept independent of the governor. It would include a local justice of the peace (who will serve as chairman), a retired judge, magistrate or lawyer, the chief officer of the government Portfolio of Internal and External Affairs [now the Ministry of Home 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 the Cayman Islands.
“[The panel] won’t be just looking at … whether the number of warrants or instances was proportionate, or whether allegations were sufficiently serious,” Governor Kilpatrick said. “They’ll also be looking at the technical aspects of it as well, to make sure that … there’s no illegitimate use of the interception equipment.”
Police will retain the recorded information, which will be audited by the oversight committee, the governor said.
“There will be system controls put in place, logs that [the committee] will be able to inspect,” she said. “I can’t go into the technical details, but it won’t be a question of just asking people, there’ll be evidence.”
The police will maintain the “logs” or records to which Governor Kilpatrick refers. Also, there is no clarity at this stage as to whether the telecommunications companies, whose information lines police will be tapping into to obtain those records, will be asked or even informed of police operations.
Ms Kilpatrick said she well understood privacy concerns surrounding the issue, particularly after revelations about U.S. intelligence efforts that collected electronic data – including phone numbers, text messages and emails – in several countries, including from U.S. allies France and Italy.
“The U.S. system hoovers up absolutely everything and they can search it,” Ms Kilpatrick said. “The system that will be used here is very different. There will be no big database that’s held by the government of everything that’s gone on.”
Governor Kilpatrick noted that only serious criminals need worry about the wiretapping capabilities of local police, but that’s not strictly what the Interception of Telecommunications Regulations allow for. Situations where wiretaps or email snoops might be approved include: the interests of national security, preventing or detecting serious crime, averting an imminent threat to human life, circumstances that fall within the scope of international mutual assistance agreements, or to safeguard the economic well-being of the Cayman Islands.
The regulations also state the governor must be “satisfied that the interception of the message is proportionate to the ends sought to be achieved by intercepting the message and the information sought to be obtained cannot be obtained by other less intrusive means.”
The content of intercepted messages has become “the most valuable asset available to law enforcement when it comes to really serious crime,” the governor said.
She added, “We are talking about only using this in the pursuit of people who are suspected of serious crimes.”
The Caymanian Compass revealed on Wednesday that the Cayman Islands government will require, through new regulations to the Information and Communications Technology Authority Law, that local telecommunications companies provide “legal interception facilities” to the RCIPS, according a memo obtained by the newspaper.
The police service purchased surveillance equipment for the purpose of intercepting communications earlier this year, but needs to directly access the service providers’ telephony networks and ensure its equipment functions properly with the telecommunications service providers’ upgraded technology, according to government sources familiar with the issue.
According to the Oct. 15 memo sent from Information and Communications Technology Authority Managing Director David Archbold to various telecommunication companies on island: “Government has instructed the authority to provide drafting instructions for a new set of regulations under the ICTA Law which will mandate the provision by licensees [referring to the telecommunications companies] of legal interception facilities to the RCIPS.”
A meeting on the data interception requirements was scheduled for next week between the ICTA and local telecoms.