It has been nearly five years since the Cayman Islands government began installing closed-circuit television cameras to monitor public rights of way on Grand Cayman and in that time, no legislation governing the use of those devices has been approved.
According to the CCTV code of practice from 2011: “At present, there is no statutory framework for the regulation of CCTV use, either government or privately operated in the Cayman Islands. The code does not have the binding effect of legislation.”
It was assumed that government, shortly after the implementation of the monitoring system, would put the Data Protection Law into effect, but it has not. Lawmakers are expected to consider the legislation for the first time in the Legislative Assembly this week.
Acting Information Commissioner Jan Liebaers said last week that the CCTV governance issues were identified years ago by the working group that drafted legislation related to data protection. A report from that group in 2014 stated: “The current gap in applicable legal provisions related to the use of CCTV and the need for privacy protection in the context of some of the international agreements which the Cayman Islands is subject to, suggest[s] that a Data Protection Law is long overdue.”
Mr. Liebaers said the use of CCTV cameras in public rights of way is one of the major issues that needs to be addressed with the advent of data protection in the Cayman Islands.
“CCTV is operating in a legal vacuum,” Mr. Liebaers said. “The code of practice [for CCTV] refers to the fact that the system would be governed by data protection.”
However, if the operation of CCTV cameras – including public complaints about their use – is to fall into the remit of the information commissioner’s office, the designated authority to administer data protection in the Cayman Islands under the new legislation, the office must be given the proper staff and training, Mr. Liebaers said.
“If we’re going to enforce this, we need to do it credibly, like we do with Freedom of Information,” he said. “I don’t want [data protection] to be a box-ticking exercise, but government needs to put some resources behind it if they don’t want that to happen.”
Data protection laws generally set out how government and private sector entities should handle personal information and records given to them in the course of business.
The law establishes privacy protections for individuals and gives them the right to access details of how their personal information is being processed by the entity.
Videos and information compiled on public right-of-way CCTV cameras are typically processed and viewed at the 911 Emergency Communications Centre for traffic management or the prevention and detection of crime.
The 2011 code of conduct governing the use and operation of the Cayman Islands public CCTV system states that “no camera is to be hidden or obscured” from public view. The code, gazetted on Dec. 19, 2011 and approved by Cabinet members in July 2011, states that signs will be clearly placed and visible to the public when they enter an area covered by CCTV. This includes transportable or mobile cameras that will be used from time to time in connection with the CCTV system. Those signs identify: first, who is responsible for the CCTV system; second, its purpose; and third, details of who to contact about the cameras.
“The use of covert processing, including the removal or failure to provide signs, is prima facie a breach of the fairness requirement [included in the CCTV Code of Conduct],” the code states. “The installation of a CCTV camera is considered to be overt unless it is installed in a manner whereby its presence is deliberately intended to be concealed.”
There are exceptions made in the code where CCTV public surveillance is used specifically for the preventing or detection of crime.
“In keeping with [the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service] policy pertaining to covert surveillance, such covert surveillance is not covered by this code of practice,” the code reads. Those instances of covert surveillance must be approved by an RCIPS officer holding the rank of superintendent or above and would also have to be agreed on by the manager of the electronic monitoring centre. Only specially trained staff will be allowed to operate the cameras during such operations.
“Targeted surveillance is not covered by this code and views into residential premises and office accommodations will, as far as possible, be excluded from the field of vision,” according to the code. “Every effort must be made to prevent close up views into windows of living accommodations.”