NIDS should not make lives a ‘living hell’, says JFJ

NIDS should not make lives a ‘living hell’, says JFJ

Senior staff reporter

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

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THE lives of Jamaicans who opt out of registering when the proposed National Identification System (NIDS) is rolled out should not be made “a living hell”, advocacy group Jamaicans for Justice (JFJ) has urged.

In fact, the group has also argued that these individuals should not find themselves banished to the fringes of society.

The JFJ warning, issued by Executive Director Rodj Malcolm, comes even as Prime Minister Andrew Holness, in September, said his Administration anticipates that NIDS will become law by December, and think tank Caribbean Policy Research Institute (CAPRI) published a report batting for the introduction of the system.

According to CAPRI, while NIDS is not a panacea, the lack of a single, trusted form of identification (ID) in Jamaica that is usable across all activities has left the door wide open for a number of irregularities, including identity theft.

Among its recommendations are that citizens be encouraged and incentivised to enrol in the universal ID system when it is promulgated. According to the think tank, this is necessary for widespread adoption and for the benefits of the system to be fully harnessed.

Malcolm, who was speaking yesterday during the launch of the CAPRI report — which was funded by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) — said while the Government can incentivise people to enrol, “the result should attract persons as opposed to pushing persons into using it”.

“We also shouldn’t artificially create difficult circumstances for persons that require them to use it like we have seen, for example, in other countries like India, where the Government said, ‘We want you to use this ID so we are going to now make certain services artificially contingent upon the use of that ID and do away with other forms of legal identification that were working before, so we can nudge you’. That is really a soft form of coercion,” he argued.

“That is not what we want,” he said, pointing out that in India it was found that after individuals were coerced into using the system, there were greater levels of social exclusion and the black market for services increased.

CAPRI has said that a voluntary-based system in Jamaica, void of incentives, will not achieve steady adoption for the ID, but if mandated for e-government services, social programmes, and Know Your Customer requirements, widespread adoption can be achieved.

CAPRI said, too, in requiring biometric and biographic information for the issuance of the ID, legislation must enforce the least intrusive methods necessary to achieve widespread adoption and maximum benefit.

Currently, only fingerprints of all digits, a facial image, as well as the first and last names of an individual and their date of birth should be required for Jamaica. Other information should be optional, CAPRI said, while pointing out that because of the dynamism of technology, whether biometric or otherwise, “the recommended features may require re-evaluation”.

In the meantime, the think tank said the first phase of NIDS should see the issuing of the ID to beneficiaries of social welfare programmes. It also recommended that the second phase of the system should target public sector workers, because they can be used as a pilot, while the third phase can expand to the rest of the citizenry and permanent residents.

In relation to social programmes being used as the first testing ground, the JFJ executive director said: “That’s fine to offer that as an option, but it can’t go to the point of saying you can’t access PATH [Programme for Advancement Through Health and Education] unless you have enrolled, so it should be voluntary.

“The principles that we should use to evaluate NIDS is that it is minimally intrusive, that it is truly voluntary — both in law and in practice — and that failure to enrol should not make your life a living hell, and that the results should lead to greater social inclusion,” Malcolm added.

In pointing out that the “Government has not yet brought the Data Protection Act into force, for reasons known only to them”, he said, “We should really not be contemplating operationalising a NIDS Bill until the Data Protection Act is in force,” as without that Act, there will be no oversight body or regulations to govern how the NIDS operates.

The advocate argued, too, that the oversight body should be independent and not a commission of Parliament or part of the executive where it can take instructions from the political directorate.

Jamaica’s Supreme Court ruled in April 2019 that aspects of the controversial National Identification and Registration Act violated the constitution and declared the entire law null and void. In delivering the judgement, Chief Justice Bryan Sykes said it was the unanimous decision of the court that to mandate individuals to submit biometric information was a violation of the right to privacy as stipulated in the constitution.

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