Defending our most precious freedom

As government – not ours but theirs, meaning the United Kingdom – insists on moving forward with an expanded program to listen to our telephone conversations, interdict our text messages, and, presumably, monitor our Internet browsing, we as a people would be ill-advised to respond to this assault on our privacy with passivity or silence.

And yet, that is precisely the response we are hearing (more accurately, not hearing) from many of our most-prominent leaders in both the public and private sectors, as well as our leading associations and institutions.

To date, the Cayman Islands Law Society has been mute, as has the Criminal Defense Bar. Particularly troubling is the “no comment” from Cayman Finance, the organization that represents and promotes the islands’ financial services industry. Ironically, the CEO of Cayman Finance, Gonzalo Jalles, who is the de facto spokesperson for Cayman’s financial institutions, himself has a spokesperson – Lynn Byles of Tower Marketing. And so, we have a spokesperson with a spokesperson, and neither will speak a word on the growing threat to privacy that underpins the industry they represent.

The issue at hand, for readers just joining the debate, is the U.K. position (which it forced into Cayman law in 2002) that applications for intercepts must be initiated by Cayman’s commissioner of police and approved by the U.K-appointed governor who, circularly, appoints the commissioner of police. The judiciary was conspicuously (and insultingly) left out of the very decision-making process it should be controlling. This usurpation of power by the U.K. needs to be undone. The law needs to be rewritten.

An important question is why does the U.K. want these powers in the first instance? We do not accept official pronouncements that such a widespread, unchecked and expensive ($1 million has already been spent on new surveillance equipment) intrusion into our private lives is warranted in order to fight local crime. Good heavens, we have, comparatively speaking, minimal crime in Cayman. RCIPS Commissioner David Baines already knows who most of the bad guys are, and importantly, the fruits of the increased surveillance will not be allowed as evidence in any criminal trials.

Furthermore, the justification that these intercepts are indispensible to “fighting terrorism” is as ridiculous as it is spurious. We’ve encountered more “duppies” on these islands than we have terrorists.

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A seductive but specious argument is that “if you’re not doing anything illegal, you shouldn’t be concerned.” In fact, most privacy issues – from writing love letters to your spouse (or whomever) to downloading XXX-rated movies from the Internet – have nothing whatsoever to do with illegality. These are legal activities. This issue has to do with keeping the inquisitive ears and eyes of authorities out of your business.

It must be particularly discomfiting for the U.K. to be making its case for wiretapping at the same time Operation Tempura is coming back into the news and its behavior in the Euro Bank scandal is being revisited. The Tempura team, along with their enabling Caymanian counterparts, have not yet had to answer for their communications intercepts – but they will. What the public will eventually learn will render the oft-repeated bromide “trust us” demonstrably meaningless.

George Orwell, the seer and sage of privacy, wrote in his novel 1984, that “You had to live – did live, from habit that became instinct – in the assumption that every sound you made was overheard, and, except in darkness, every movement scrutinized.”

His chilling prophecy must never become reality in the Cayman Islands.

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  1. Considering that the latest information (as yet unverified but it is being worked on) coming out in the UK suggests that when several MLAs, including the current Premier, made moves to cut off the Tempura funding they were immediately targeted by the investigation I too am surprised by the silence.

    I firmly believe that one of the reasons the FCO is so determined to suppress the Aina report is that the original complaint contained material that was obtained by questionably legal telephone and email intercepts.

    As I commented before Tempura must remain the benchmark for deciding whether or not this legislation is credible.

    This has also already been posted but I am happy to repeat it – this is a human rights minefield and if it gets misused the bill to the Cayman Islands could make the cost of Tempura look like pocket change.