Raise the Cayman flag, not the white flag

Breaking the silence of his government in regard to wiretapping, Cayman Islands Premier Alden McLaughlin said he dislikes allowing the governor and police commissioner complete control of domestic surveillance, but he does not “want a major war over this particular issue.”

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.


  1. What is curious is that no one is admitting anything about how this surveillance will be carried out.

    With modern communications the old-fashioned wire-tapping concept is long dead, buried and replaced by far more sophisticated systems that rely on seeking out keywords and phrases from the whole of the network. Individual, targeted cell phone or WiFi interceptions then follow but the process is kicked off by a very general snooping process that impacts all of us.

    If RCIPS really has spent CI1million on equipment for this I suspect then when it goes live they will be accessing all communications. That is a little bit worrying because if it goes wrong not only could the direct financial impact on the Cayman Islands be embarrassing but I am sure the indirect fallout when businesses decide to move out will be considerable.

  2. Much of the business of the Cayman Islands concerns corporate mergers.

    The insider trading benefits of being able to tap into highly confidential information on deals and proposed deals is staggering.

    And how about discussions about unannounced trading profits of publicly listed companies?

    How tempting for someone to supplement their income with a little bit of advance trading on confidential information.

    If the good ship Cayman becomes known as a leaky sieve it will do untold damage to our reputation.

    Can we stand up to the British bullies?

  3. ‘There is more abridgement of freedom by gradual encroachments of those in power than by violent usurpations.’ – James Madison

    Ever since Governor Helen Kilpatrick announced that only criminals need to fear RCIPS interception, the people got the message you must be a criminal if you’re worried about RCIPS interception.

    However, the awesome power of the RCIPS can be seen in the definition of ‘intercept’. Regulation 2 of the ICTA Regulation reads: ‘intercept’ includes monitoring and interrupting.

    The operative word in the definition of ‘intercept’ is the word ‘includes’. The current definition means that among other things, it ‘includes and monitoring and interrupting’.

    The word ‘interrupting’ is a technical way of referring to the act of starting and stopping applications. Yes, it ‘includes’ stopping your firewall application on your cell phone and your home and work computers from running, but then cyber criminals will also have opportunity to infect your computers with malware also.

    If the definition was not meant to include more than monitoring the ICTA Regulations would have defined it as: ‘intercept’ means monitoring.

    In 2009 it was reported elsewhere that UK police were authorized to break into the personal computers of UK citizens. In the ICTA Regulations ‘interrupting’ gives the RCIPS that legal power they want to do just that, if they so decide.

    When the RCIPS plugs their 1M equipment into the networks of the respective telecom providers, the telecom companies will route a copy of all your traffic which is crossing their network to the RCIPS.

    The real issue here is not security versus privacy, instead it’s about liberty versus power.

    Agencies of government don’t have rights, they have powers granted to them by legislation. Example, the ICTA Regulations. Residents have rights which are recognized by the Constitution and which should not be infringed, except with proper oversight.

    It is the civic duty and responsibility of residents to ensure that the powers excised by ‘their’ government institutions do not infringe our rights. The FOI Law is meant to be one of many tools to help residents protect their rights, but Operation Tempura is showing us why we need other tools to better protect our rights from State abuse.

    We need constitutional amendments and provisions within the ICTA Law to require prior judicial scrutiny and warrant before interceptions can occur, because the Governor is the one who is responsible for the actions of the Police, and she is also the one who will appoint members of the Audit Committee, who would then be expected to Audit her and the RCIPS.

    With all due respect, the Governor is conflicted here.

    Another issue is that since the RCIPS will be the ones responsible for keeping records about what interceptions they have done, we will be in effect asking the Commissioner of Police to hold himself accountable, because the Audit Committee will only have access to the records the Commissioner of Police decides to share with the Audit Committee.

    What are the prescribed penalties for any breaches which may occur? Will the CoP be held personally liable or will the public be asked to pay another few million dollars?

    In light of Operation Tempura, please don’t talk to me about trusting the UK or the Commissioner of Police. The PPM Government needs to do more than just wave the white flag here.

  4. Let just think about the other side of the coin for one moment; by using modern wire tapping equipment suddenly every electronic message is being scanned for key words and phases so the police will now know in advance when every shipment of guns, drugs and other imported stuff is arriving without the importers knowing is there shipment will be comprised by armed police being on the seen. Also any serving police officer who wants to tip of their friends will now be recorded so plugging the leaks.

    Armed robberies cannot coordinated by phone or email, prisoners cell phone messages are now intercepted. This done by machinery not humans and the data is read by only certain people.

    So yes every one messages will be scanned but only the ones with key phased will be recorded. We are watched by CCTV cameras all the time, NSA intercepts electronic data going through US electronic portals already – Big Brother is here and has been for some time for the private citizen and do I care personally well the answer is no if it allow me the right to free speech and the knowledge that this spying on me allow me to travel freely with having to worry about some nut job blowing me up.

    As an ex British serviceman I was a potential soft target for the IRA that meant checking under my car every day for a bomb in case I was to become the next statistic.

    So to everyone here who enjoys writing in the paper or expressing their views in blogs or on the radio you should thank that army of spies keep you safe and protecting your freedoms.

    Otherwise Caymana Bay could become the next Kenyan shopping centre because some nut job does not like what one of many international banks is doing with their rivals money and takes a grudge then when innocent blood is spilled suddenly there would be an outcry why the UK government did not stop this and the only people to blame who be the ones who stopped the wire tapping and so the electronic signal went unchecked!

    To stop this happening I prefer a machine to listen to by boring conversations to my mum when they like. It a small price to pay to be safe.

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