Mr. McLaughlin would be well advised to contemplate that far bigger wars have been fought over far smaller issues. Surrender usually comes at the end of a war, not at the beginning.
Judging from statements the premier has made recently, as well as 10 years ago when the topic was addressed in the Legislative Assembly, Mr. McLaughlin continues to believe that, ideally, a member of Cayman’s judiciary – not the governor – should authorize the issuance of police warrants for wiretapping operations.
On the other side, U.K. officials have remained insistent – and consistent – on preserving the current arrangement between the governor and the police commissioner.
Mr. McLaughlin deserves some praise for pursuing a compromise, namely having a judge serve on an independent oversight committee to review wiretapping warrants issued by the governor.
However, regardless of its composition, the oversight committee would review the appropriateness of the wiretapping warrants AFTER the warrants had been issued and the wiretapping had begun or been completed.
Imagine for a moment that the committee found fault with the original issuance of the warrant. What happens next? Does anyone seriously believe that the governor would then be held to account in any meaningful way for her decision? What would the sanction be – a sternly written reprimand?
Clearly, the value of such an oversight committee and, ipso facto, Mr. McLaughlin’s compromise, is optical, not practical. Embedded in this assault on personal and commercial privacy are serious implications for human rights, the financial sector and, by proxy, the country’s economy. Of one thing we are confident: Once the flow of eavesdropping applications begins, they are likely to increase – we fear actually to metastasize. Don’t expect cats ever to limit their own attraction to catnip.
In 2003, then-Governor Bruce Dinwiddy relied on his “reserve powers” to force the Legislative Assembly to impose a surveillance program that purposely excluded Cayman judges from the approval process and placed all of the power in the hands of U.K. appointees.
Ask yourselves these questions: Why does the U.K. want this power? Does anyone seriously believe it’s to help us Cayman Islanders catch crooks in East End or West Bay? We weren’t aware that the U.K. was so concerned about our well-being.
The U.K. does not now hold all the cards. It requires the Cayman government’s cooperation to change local regulations to compel telecom companies to cooperate actively with police eavesdroppers. We should refuse to rewrite those regulations.
Also, the U.K. does not now hold all the purse strings. Because of the recent shakeup of government powers under the Constitution, it is Mr. McLaughlin who has responsibility for the budget of law enforcement. We should employ the powers of the purse we already possess to pursue our own interests.
Remember, the reason the police even have the capability to eavesdrop on telephone calls is that Cayman’s penultimate PNA government approved the expenditures to purchase the necessary digital equipment. In other words, our previous government approved spending our own money to enable U.K. representatives to spy on our own people.
Rather than waving a white flag, our leaders should be waving the Cayman flag — proudly and, if necessary, defiantly.