Protecting our priceless right of privacy

Sent a little missive to the mistress lately?

This summer we learned from a former officer involved in Operation Tempura that U.K. police, in coordination with Cayman police, had obtained (most likely illegally) thousands of emails from private citizens here in the Cayman Islands. Among them were communications between an individual and his attorneys (violating the sacred “attorney-client privilege”), and private correspondence between a journalist (a U.S. national) and his sources.

We now learn that the Cayman government and Royal Cayman Islands Police Service are pushing to strengthen their capabilities to monitor and intercept people’s communications, whether by phone, email, text message or post. At a cost of $1 million, the police have already purchased the necessary equipment, and now government apparently is going to coerce telecommunications companies into assisting with the surveillance.

This is especially troubling, given our country’s lack of an adequate legal framework to regulate and review domestic eavesdropping. In Cayman, the authority over telecom interceptions belongs to the governor, who issues the police commissioner a warrant which is then executed by a police employee. Given the Euro Bank and more recent Tempura scandals, we have little confidence in any governor or police commissioner to wield such unilateral power. That is not an indictment of any particular individual – certainly not Helen Kilpatrick nor David Baines.

Rather, it is a recognition of the inherent conflict for officials appointed by the U.K. to authorize spying on Cayman residents, including those working in the financial services sector. Understandably, the U.K., its Home Office, its police and its intelligence services may well have agendas that diverge from Cayman’s local law-enforcement interests. We certainly saw that during Tempura.

We are not reassured that an oversight committee, comprised of esteemed individuals, will audit the fruits of the communications intercepts (albeit after the fact). We would remind our readers that a similar blue-ribbon committee was charged with overseeing the Tempura fiasco, and we know how that turned out.

We would be unwise to forget that Cayman’s financial services sector was built on reasonable, and legal, expectations of confidentiality which are systematically being eroded in the name of “transparency” under pressure from groups such as the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, the Financial Action Task Force and U.S. Internal Revenue Service.

Additionally, we are currently witnessing an embarrassing drama being played out between the Cayman Islands and Australia in which, according to a judgment by Grand Court Judge Charles Quin, confidential information was wrongly released to the Australia Tax Office by the Cayman Islands Tax Information Authority.

Experience has taught us to have little trust in anonymous bureaucracies to keep sensitive information under wraps – or to suffer meaningful consequences if they don’t.

Clearly (but not necessarily wisely), Cayman appears poised to intrude upon the privacy and liberty of its citizenry to satisfy institutional appetites for access into our personal and business lives.

Our response? No thanks.

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4 COMMENTS

  1. Here is a good example of privacy lost. The comments section of this online news site used to be Alias friendly name then someone decided that everyone that comments should use his or her real name. From dozens of daily interesting comments, they are now down to less then 10 per day. Sad, sad….. If names are so important to you, please provide the names of the ones that are directly responsible for this change.

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  2. If a civil servant, government contractor, RCIPS officer, etc. on behalf of the government (‘public’) were to breach a person’s rights, by what means would a resident be able to discover and obtain tangible evidence to prove that a breach did occur?

    What would the necessary procedure be to obtain such evidence and how much would it cost ‘the little man’ to obtain that evidence?

    By what means could it be demonstrated to residents that evidence of a breach could not be destroyed without the public’s knowledge?

    What is the name and office of the person who would have the access, the opportunity and the lawful authority to very quickly inform the press and the person(s) affected in writing, and in plain English?

    Would government even be required to inform a person or the press that someone’s right(s) have been breached? If not, how would the person know? Why shouldn’t the person know?

    Would it be the ‘Public’ who would have to pay financially or otherwise, or would the individual(s) who caused the breach be personally held liable?

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  3. Why not a judicial review? If the evidence gleaned from snooping personal information cannot be presented in court, can any other evidence obtained as a result of the snooping be lawful? Your honor, the officer was at the right place at the right time to catch the crook?

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