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JM | Jan 30, 2021

NIDS Bill to be passed this year but there are still concerns

Al Edwards

Al Edwards / Our Today

administrator
Prime Minister Andrew Holness. (Photo: CARICOM.org)

The National Identification System (NIDS) Bill will be passed this year as Jamaica makes greater efforts to become a digital society.

This announcement was made by Jamaica’s Prime Minister Andrew Holness at the Jamaica Stock Exchange’s 16th Regional Investments & Capital Markets Conference, held at The Jamaica Pegasus hotel in New Kingston.

“The new NIDS Bill is a very important part of the fast tracking of the vision of Jamaica becoming a digital society. The national identification framework is not just about identity but is also about providing the government agencies with infrastructure to join data bases. That is being done. The New NIDS Bill will be passed into law this year,” declared Holness as he delivered keynote address at the conference.

He went on to add that Jamaica must become part of the fourth industrial revolution and cannot afford to be left behind. The aim he announced is to make Jamaica the Silicon Valley of the Caribbean.

The Jamaican Government has said that NIDS is a unique, reliable and secure way of verifying an individual’s identity. It will establish a reliable database of all Jamaican citizens and will involve the issuance of a unique lifelong National Identification Number (NIN) to every person. In the long term, the NIN may be used alongside a multipurpose card, or be uploaded onto smart phones. The use of biometric (fingerprint or retina) scan is also being explored.

“It will be a game-changer to allow the citizens to access the services of Government and the private sector,” said Minister of Justice Delroy Chuck.

But, while the Government has made NIDS a major pillar of the administration’s agenda, it has its critics and citizens have expressed concerns about the security of their personal details and it falling into the hands of unscrupulous agents.

Delroy Chuck, minister of justice (Photo: Ministry of Justice)

One particular worry was the government’s zeal to pass legislation with very little public consultation and concern for objections. That expeditious approach to fast tracking NIDS was scuppered when Chief Justice Bryan Sykes, in April 2019, announced that the legislation then on NIDS was found to be unconstitutional and therefore null and void. The Government was forced back to the drawing board.

On Friday, executive-in-residence to the University of the West Indies’ Mona School of Business, James Moss-Solomon, speaking with broadcaster and former parliamentarian Ronald Thwaites said that although the thinking behind NIDS had merit, he didn’t think Jamaica has the technological capabilities at this time to ensure data security. He pointed to the increasing levels of cybercrime, scammers in the country, and that NIDS could be compromised putting Jamaican citizens in jeopardy.

James Moss-Solomon, executive-in-residence to the Mona School of Business and Management (MSBM) at the University of the West Indies, Mona. (Photo: JIS)

He pointed to the power of Big Tech and media behemoths like Google, and Facebook who are able to mine personal data for profit and that they were becoming more powerful than governments.

Of particular concern to Moss-Solomon is the possibility of many agents setting up shop for the purpose of selling and registering identification. He believes that there should be one central location for national identification and the government must guarantee that people’s data is secure and is not being sold to business interests or given to other countries. 

Writing on his media platform ‘Public Opinion’, Moss-Solomon said: “I think that the general support for NIDS is very high, however there is an element of a lack of trust that runs through the population. The public relations campaigns have failed to clarify the concerns for many people and that is the crux of the current rejection. Succeeding governments have tended to use information in varied ways that suit their individual preferences for and against individuals and companies.”

The government maintains that NIDS will enhance its ability to see to it that better compliance is adhered to, particularly with tax collection. It also will assist with its fight to counter people assuming multiple identities in an effort to game the system.

It also sees NIDS as a crime fighting tool, giving it a database on residents and citizens in Jamaica, particularly in light of increasing money laundering, tax evasion and bank fraud.

“The issues that are at play regarding privacy of information, security of information, all of those are issues which are easily resolved but they should never stymie our growth and development. We make a mistake if we try to remain in the past. We must modernise our thinking and embrace the future that is presenting itself to us,” said Holness at the JSE Investments & Capital Markets Conference.

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