October 23, 2020

The Editor Speaks: Wiretapping


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Colin WilsonwebiNews Cayman has published a number of stories and editorials on the subject of wiretapping. Cayman’s public is not happy with what seems to be the total disregard of our rights and the secrecy that is attached to it.

Everybody seems to be doing it. Almost every day we learn of countries wiretapping even their supposedly friendly neighbours telephones. More powers are being given to agencies by supposed watchdogs set up to see our rights are not displaced and the agencies are obeying what is left of the laws to protect us. This is even true when these same watchdogs have been notified of the agencies breaking these rules.

The same people that put in place the wiretapping agencies set up the watchdogs, of course.

Here, in Cayman the committee to check up AFTER the wiretapping has taken place hasn’t even been formed. After two years!

The law mandates this should be a five-member Cabinet-appointed oversight committee, chaired by one of Cayman’s near-200 Justices of the Peace, and comprising a retired judge, magistrate or lawyer; the Chief Officer of the Portfolio of Internal and External Affairs; a government ICT specialist; and a technical expert from an off-island law-enforcement agency.

But none of us must worry it is for our protection.

Protection in Cayman from what?

It was officers acting under the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service (RCIPS) themselves that ordered the wiretapping through the governor throughout the bungled Operation Tempura. That resulted in not one successful prosecution and enough settlements out of court by the subjects of these wiretaps that could have helped the national debt!

The Human Rights Commission (HRC) has just issued a warning:

“Until the Audit Committee is established, the public cannot be sufficiently assured that the surveillance equipment and circumstances underpinning each instance of telecommunication message interception is compliant with the ICTA legislation or established human rights standards intended to protect against unlawful, arbitrary, and unreasonable interceptions.”

Please see iNews Cayman story dated November 24 2013 “HR on interception of telecommunications – must have oversight” at: https://www.ieyenews.com/wordpress/hr-on-interception-of-telecommunications-must-have-oversight/

The Commission also raised concerns pertaining to the ability of the RCIPS to intercept messages with just a warrant from the governor for supposedly only very serious crimes without any oversight.

As we reported in August 2011 Cayman’s most respected lawyer and past president of the Law Society, and editor of the Law Reports, Ramon Alberga, OBE, is also concerned.

He said then, “The Governor is not a lawyer. A judge is the only one with the training for this, who can decide if there is a prima facie case. This is quite wrong. I am not in favour of this at all. My view is that when it comes to an important thing like wiretaps, it should be assigned to a justice of the Grand Court.”

Regulations allowing taps to be placed “in circumstances coming within the scope of international mutual assistance agreements” or “to safeguard the economic well-being of the islands”, were “far too broad”, Mr Alberga said.

Even our present Premier, Hon. Alden McLaughlin, said back in August 2011 wiretaps should have “the benefit of judicial scrutiny”.

We had this piece of sound reasoning from the governor’s office also back in  August 2011 that was so assuring:

“The designation of the executive to oversee wiretaps, as opposed to a judge, has been debated, and I’m sure there is a good reason for the clause. He [the Governor] recognises his duty and that it is the right thing to do.”

Well the ‘he’ now is a ‘she’ and HE Governor Helen Kilpatrick has also told us not to worry. We have nothing to fear if we are law abiding. And there is oversight she said.

“On 22 March, 2012 the Deputy Governor responded to the HRC confirming that the (then) Portfolio of Internal and External Affairs was in the final stages of identifying members of the Audit Committee and indicated that the matter would go before Cabinet within the next thirty (30) days,” the HRC has reported.

Eighteen months later and after repeated enquiries there is no committee.

The Information and Communications Technology Authority’s director, David Archbold, on October 15 2013, sent a memo that was leaked to the media revealing government authorities are planning to widen their spying net and wire taps to include all kinds of electronic information.

Revised regulations are being planned that will allow the authorities to not only  tap phones but wider communication networks as well.

All this is to assist the police in their legal investigations and the authorities can collect masses of information with their newly purchased spying equipment that has cost close to $1M!

See iNews Editorial October 23 2013 “Spying” at: https://www.ieyenews.com/wordpress/the-editor-speaks-spying/

Why the previous government did not set up the Audit Committee is strange and has bitten its leader McKeeva Bush in the foot when he revealed that all of his communication had been intercepted and the police had got hold of his personal bank and finance details. Bush is currently facing a number of charges under the anti-corruption law.

The UK’s overseas territories minister, Mark Simmonds, said recently the police powers to monitor or intercept private calls and electronic messages were for only the most “serious of crime” or “terrorism”.

Excuse me. Wasn’t one of Cayman’s well respected judges the subject of a wiretap?


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