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JM | Nov 26, 2021

Parliament-approved NIDS Bill continues to be problematic, says JFJ

/ Our Today

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Human rights lobby Jamaicans For Justice (JFJ) has expressed deep concern that the National Identification and Registration Act, 2021 has been passed in both Houses of Parliament, despite what it argued were key problematic areas that infringe on the rights of the citizenry.

In a statement issued above the name of Mickel Jackson, executive director of the JFJ, the organisation said it noted the inclusion of several recommendations made by various organisations, including from itself, to address issues with previous versions of the Bill, but that there remained six key areas of the pending legislation that were troubling.

“Prior to being gazetted, consideration should be given to adjusting these outlined areas,” JFJ said as it listed the areas with which it was concerned.

Lack of adherence to the data minimisation principle  – Despite amendments made to limit the quantity of
information collected for enrolment, JFJ’s position is that the quantity of data required is still not in accordance
with the Data Minimization Principle. The Data Minimization Principle emphasizes limiting data collection to only
what is required to fulfil a specific purpose. The information required for enrolment, namely the ID holder’s marital
status and the name of their spouse, required under Section 11(1)(a) is not justifiable. JFJ believes such
Personally Identifiable Information (PII), which if lost, compromised, or disclosed without authorisation, could
result in substantial harm, embarrassment, inconvenience, or unfairness to an individual.  

Broad definition of accredited third parties require strong regulations – Referencing Section 25(1)(b) and
(3) of the Bill which speaks to ‘accredited third parties’, JFJ notes that the Senate has submitted a definition under
section 25 as “an entity accredited under this section with whom the Authority has entered into agreement for the
provision of authentication and verification services”. The organisation strongly believes the definition within the
pending law is still too broadly defined and submits that without strong regulations future problems of privacy
breaches could occur. The accompanied regulations must therefore establish clearly defined parameters under
which such accredited third parties must operate. More specifically, the level of access they will have to data and
the reasons under which such third party would be granted access to personal data must be stated.

Mickel Jackson, executive director of Jamaicans For Justice.

Lack of independence of the NIDS authority – The independence of the NIDS authority must be safeguarded.
Currently, the authority reports to an appointed minister, who is empowered to amend the schedules to the Bill as
he/she sees fit. JFJ is worried that the current framework of the authority is too heavily vested in executive control
rather than parliamentary oversight. This has huge implications for accountability. We note the Minister of Justice
announcement that the NIDS system will be under the inspectorate of the Electoral Commission of Jamaica as an
added layer of protection. Nevertheless, JFJ is still of the view that the authority’s independence is still not
realised and would better serve the interest of the public if it were organised as a commission or body of
Parliament.   

Provisions guiding the disclosure of data remain unclear  – JFJ is deeply perturbed about a recent amendment which now allows a “constable, not below the rank of superintendent” to access the information. This is a change from the previous position which allowed for a police authority “not lower than Senior Superintendent” to access the information. This means a greater number of individuals will have access to an individual’s personal data. In addition, the amendment also allows the Commissioner of Police to make an ex parte application to obtain the identity information of individuals who are enrolled in the system, if that information is deemed necessary for the prevention, detection or investigation of crime or in the interest of national security. Firstly, JFJ’s position maintains that sensitive information must only be accessed on an absolute “need to know” basis, which limits unnecessary exposure, as well as, limits access to the smallest number of people possible. We are deeply troubled by the broad provisions under which access to PII sensitive information will be granted.  Primarily, JFJ takes issue with the provision that allows information to be accessed “in the interest of national security”, which is still undefined in the legislation. 

According to the JFJ, while it welcomed the amendment reducing the duration of time that the Jamaica
Constabulary Force would retain information ascertained through NIDS, moving from eight to three years, it remained concerned about how this data would be used, stored and secured during this three-year period.

“The question is, if an individual has been convicted or acquitted, the proceedings discontinued, or no charge has been
brought forward, why retain this data?” the JFJ said.

Lack of defined data retention period – JFJ is deeply troubled that the Bill empowers the authority to maintain
records each time a person’s national ID card is authenticated as part of a transaction, even if the transaction was
conducted with a private entity. The organisation maintains that clear regulations must be established to guide the
framework around data retention both in NIDS and the Data Protection Act (DPA) to ensure that personal data is
not kept for longer than is necessary and is disposed of in accordance with regulations. We are also concerned
that Section 74 of the DPA gives too much authority to the minister in determining how long data should beretained. Potentially, the minister could amend the retention period for personal data, which can in turn affect how
data is retained and utilized under NIDS.  

Current NIDS bill needs strong regulations to address its limitations – JFJ said every effort should be made to address the highlighted areas of concerns it raised, prior to the Bill being gazetted.

“We believe that these areas should be addressed through amendments, as well as, strong regulations implemented,” the human rights lobby said.

“Further, in drafting the regulations, we ask for proactive engagement and consultation with civil society. This will ensure that there is a strong regulatory and operational framework to provide more protection of individual rights, minimise security risks, and provide clear operational mandates and accountability that will help to guide the NIDS.”

The organisation said it strongly encouraged that, in the implementation of the ID system, consideration be given to the inclusion of marginalised and vulnerable groups, including rural citizens, persons with disabilities, and individuals
with low levels of literacy. 

Special consideration, JFJ said, also needs to be given to individuals with limited access to
the Internet. 
 
While JFJ recognizes the importance of and supports a NIDS that provides legal identity for all citizen, in its
current state, the ability of citizens to reliably carry out procedures and secure electronic transactions may be
compromised.

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