Wiretapping furor: Who’s listening?

The timing could not be worse for an idea that would be bad enough at any time, namely enabling increased telephone wiretapping, texting interceptions and e-mail surveillance by local police. Perilously, these communications intercepts would need only an application from the police commissioner and a sign-off from the governor to move forward.

Cayman’s initiative is under way while the U.S. is in full public-relations retreat against massive wiretapping by the National Security Agency that included gathering information on billions of telephone calls, including, allegedly, the private conversations of 35 heads of state, most notably of Germany, France, Brazil and Mexico.

This past weekend, a coalition group of 100 organizations and companies known as “Stop Watching Us” protested in Washington against government snooping. In London, the phone hacking trial of several former employees of the now-defunct News of the World newspaper got under way this week.

Moreover, several major firms, including Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, Microsoft and Yahoo, have filed suits in the secret U.S. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court on related spying matters. The New York Times yesterday reported that in response to growing public concern over personal data, state legislatures around the U.S. “have rushed to propose a series of privacy laws [including] whether the police need a warrant to track cellphone locations.”

In a provocative and insightful Letter to the Editor (opposite), Ramon D. Alberga Q.C. (perhaps Cayman’s most esteemed attorney), references the overly incestuous relationship that exists between Cayman’s police commissioner and the governor who appoints him. When he was Leader of the Opposition, Alden McLaughlin referred to this dyad as “a very cozy relationship.”

Mr. Alberga acknowledges that in some instances wiretapping is “obviously necessary and appropriate,” however, he wisely counsels that the authorization for such intercepts should rest with a “completely independent person such as a member of our judiciary.”

We agree totally.

In the context of Operation Tempura and the antecedent Euro Bank scandals, it is hardly surprising that Cayman residents — especially in the financial industry — are skeptical about granting broad and unfettered eavesdropping powers to Crown appointees.

It appears nearly $1 million has already been spent to purchase the equipment necessary to conduct these communications intercepts. We suggest attempting to sell it on the secondary market (perhaps to the NSA?) or, barring that, sending it off to accompany the Kittiwake off Seven Mile Beach.

The Caymanian Compass posseses a memo suggesting the government, working through the Information and Communications Technology Authority and its chairman David Archbold, is prepared to pressure local telecom companies to cooperate with local surveillance efforts.

We recall it was our current premier who courageously led the fight in the House to refuse to pay the millions of dollars the U.K. billed the Islands for the Tempura fiasco. (Governor Stuart Jack had to invoke his “reserve powers” to force the local government to pay up.)

Likewise, we call on Mr. McLaughlin to lead his government in unanimously opposing this current invasive initiative. If the decision to move forward has already been made, it’s simple. Unmake it.

A fair question: Whose idea was this anyway?