Right Steps & Poui Trees


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New NIDS Bill Tabled in Parliament

Yesterday afternoon (December 15, 2020) the new National Identification System and Registration (NIDS) Bill was tabled in Parliament.

The Bill was read the first and second times and a Select Committee of the House was named; a Select Committee of the Senate is to be named and the two committees will sit jointly to review the new Bill. The MPs named yesterday were:

Delroy Chuck (Chairman), Fayval Williams, Marlene Malahoo Forte, Marsha Smith, Robert Morgan, Dwight Sibblies, Julian Robinson, Hugh Graham and Lothan Cousins.

In his statement about the new Bill to the House, PM Holness didn’t outline a timetable for its passage as he had done in September, but MP Chuck did mention it in his brief comments:

“It is a very important Bill and we certainly would like to use the next two months profitably and hopefully we can debate and have the Bill passed during this fiscal year.”

It is during this short period that the public will have the opportunity to read and analyse the Bill and to give feedback.

Below is the prepared text of the Prime Minister’s statement, which can be checked against the PBCJ recording to hear his additional comments and to hear the comments made by Leader of the Opposition, Mark Golding.

The proceedings regarding the new NIDS Bill start at approx 2:44:40 in the PBCJ recording.


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The New NIDS: A Coalition Statement

On October 26, 2020, a coalition of organizations in Jamaica released a statement about the new national identification system, in the context of the announcement a few weeks ago that the new Bill is to be tabled in Parliament shortly. The organizations are Jamaicans for Justice (JFJ), the Slash Roots Foundation, Caribbean Vulnerable Communities Coalition (CVC), Jamaica Youth Advocacy Network (JYAN) and Jamaica Accountability Meter Portal (JAMP). The statement is posted on the JFJ website and is posted in full below.

The New NIDS: An Opportunity to Do Things Differently

OCTOBER 26, 2020 – On September 29, 2020, the Government of Jamaica indicated that fresh legislation to establish the National Identification System (NIDS) would be tabled, debated, and passed by the end of the year. We welcome the restarting of public discourse on NIDS and the government’s commitment to send the Bill, when tabled, to a Joint Select Committee of Parliament which will take submissions from members of the public.

As Jamaicans, we are all too familiar with the inefficiencies and frustration that stem from ineffective identification options—multiple visits to government offices; numerous calls to find a Justice of the Peace to certify documents; or, in the worst cases, inability to access services when we need them.

As a country, we can do better. But national consensus on HOW we address this problem will be critical to achieving a future in which all persons realise the benefits of access to reliable identification in a way that respects their fundamental rights and inherent freedoms. To achieve this goal, we must bear the following in mind.

1. Flaws in national identification systems can lead to unintentional, but systematic exclusion. When they are rushed or not designed inclusively, oversights in the implementation of national identification systems can have far-reaching implications, including human rights violations. Kenya and India provide relevant lessons. Earlier this year, the Kenyan High Court delayed the implementation of their ID system after it found that it was systematically excluding minority groups. In India, recent studies of their ID system have found that it has failed to improve the efficiency of the state welfare programmes (similar to our PATH programme), and has actually made them more difficult to access for the communities who rely on them the most. Engaging with diverse stakeholders early in the process can assist in identifying potential pitfalls that would be more costly to address later in implementation.

2. Great care is needed in the consultation process. If adopted, NIDS will be the most far-reaching system for collection of sensitive, personal information by the government in Jamaica’s history. While the need and opportunity is clear, the risks are also significant. Future generations of Jamaicans will have to live with the systems we design today. To do this well, consultation with the public should be genuine, with a sincere willingness to make changes where necessary.

3. Learning from the first NIDS process is essential. The first attempt to establish NIDS lacked consensus. It was passed amidst intense parliamentary divide, had no formal channel for public input, and was ultimately struck down by Jamaica’s Supreme Court because it violated people’s rights. In this second attempt, the government must commit to doing things differently in pursuit of national consensus.

Accordingly, we offer these initial recommendations for this next phase of Jamaica’s NIDS project.

1. Ensure that there is sufficient time for meaningful public participation in the law-making process. For the government’s commitment to public input to be meaningful, it must be embraced in the truest sense. At present, the end-of-year timeline for the tabling, public consultation, revision, debate, and passage of the NIDS Bill will be insufficient. This law is likely to affect Jamaicans in profound ways, they therefore must have a real opportunity to understand the concepts in the Bill for themselves and sufficient time to prepare any submissions on areas of concern. Adequate time should also be given to allow Parliament’s honest engagement with the varying perspectives. The process should recognise and respect these considerations. Accordingly, we urge the government to revise the proposed approach, which provides only roughly two months to consider, debate, revise, and pass this Bill.

2. The NIDS Bill should not be passed prior to the operationalisation of the Data Protection Act. Though the Data Protection Act was passed in June 2020, the law has not yet been brought into force by the government— meaning that it has no legal effect until the government decides it will. Bringing the law into force would require, among other things, the appointment of the Information Commissioner—the nation’s chief data protection entity—and publication of the Act’s Regulations, which will outline how entities that hold data such, as NIDS, should operate in practice.

These are critical building blocks of the “digital society” that the government is aiming to transition the country towards. However, with the current end-of-year timeline announced by the government, it is possible that the NIDS Bill could be passed before there are any systems in place for protection of personal data and privacy under the Data Protection Act.

Because NIDS will collect unprecedented amounts of personal data, it is in the country’s best interest to have a data protection infrastructure in place prior to Parliamentary consideration of NIDS. This is critical to ensuring that the systems envisioned by the Data Protection Act are truly (not just in theory) functional and capable of safeguarding people’s information and that the legislation is itself sufficient. Jamaica has not yet seen any element of the Data Protection Act in practice. We strongly urge the government not to pass a NIDS Bill that would sanction the most far-reaching system for collection of people’s private information in Jamaica’s history without this.


3. NIDS should be a voluntary system in both law and in practice. People should not face the prospect of social exclusion because of non-enrolment, nor should their conditions be made more difficult in order to compel their enrolment. While the government can no longer criminalise and fine persons who choose not to enrol (as was previously the case before the Supreme Court struck down the prior NIDS law), other measures that have the effect of coercing persons to enrol should be avoided. Such measures include making certain services contingent on enrolment in NIDS so that those using those services have no choice but to register. Jamaicans should retain the ability to access services in a way that respects their personal autonomy, dignity, and freedom of choice.

THE WAY FORWARD

2020 has demonstrated in no uncertain terms that as a country, we must do things differently. For a project of this magnitude, it will take all of us—the people, the government, the opposition, civil society, and the private sector—to build a system that we can all be proud of; a system that respects our fundamental rights, protects our privacy, and promotes social inclusion through greater efficiency.

To the Jamaican people: In the coming months, we will have the opportunity to read this Bill, engage in discussions, and make our voices heard before Parliament. NIDS may fundamentally change how the state recognises us. It is crucial that we actively shape this for ourselves and future generations.

To the Jamaican government: You have the opportunity to demonstrate your commitment to public participation, social inclusion, and good governance. We urge you to embark on this important national enterprise with genuine respect for the perspectives and different life circumstances of the Jamaican people. We take the Prime Minister at his word when on election night he stated that “It must never be that this Government takes the people for granted.” On the topic of NIDS, this includes giving us sufficient time to prepare and participate.

As organizations who care about creating an inclusive and safe national identification system, we look forward to working with the government and the communities that we serve to bring their ideas and contributions to this process. 

ON BEHALF OF

  • Jamaicans for Justice
  • The Slash Roots Foundation
  • Caribbean Vulnerable Communities Coalition
  • Jamaica Youth Advocacy Network
  • Jamaica Accountability Meter Portal

(For full disclosure, I work on the NIDS issue both as a member of JFJ and in my personal capacity.)


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New NIDS Bill to be Tabled in Parliament Shortly…and be Passed by Year End?

At the first session of the new Parliament on September 29, 2020, Prime Minister Holness made a statement about the National Identification System (NIDS) and laid out the timetable in which he hopes to see the new NIDS Bill passed into law. With legislation that will have such far-reaching impact and which has already been the subject of much controversy, it is important that adequate time is allowed for public review of the Bill before it becomes law.  I am concerned that the timetable laid out by the Prime Minister may not allow sufficient time for this much-needed public review.

In his statement in Parliament, PM Holness said that the draft Bill had been completed and was before the Legislative Committee (of Cabinet) and that it would be tabled in Parliament before the end of October. A Joint Select Committee of Parliament would then be established and it was his hope that the Bill would be passed by the end of the year.

In too many instances over the decades, the deadline given by Joint Select Committees for submissions hasn’t allowed adequate time for interested groups and individuals to review and analyse the draft legislation and prepare submissions. In the current situation, if the new NIDS Bill is tabled within the next two weeks, there would be only 7 to 9 weeks for the entire process to take place, if the Bill is to be passed into law before the end of December. That is,

  • for the Joint Select Committee (JSC) to be established to consider the Bill and make a call for submissions;
  • for the public to review the Bill and make submissions and appear before the Committee, if asked;
  • for the Committee to undergo its own deliberations, considering any submissions, and write and table its report to Parliament;
  • for both Houses of Parliament to consider the report and its recommendations and debate the Bill and pass it.

It may be that once the new Bill is tabled, it will have been so carefully drafted and will have addressed the concerns raised in the judgment of the Constitutional Court which struck down the old Act, and will have taken into consideration many of the concerns raised by the public prior to the passage of the old Act, that there will be few new or remaining concerns to be dealt with. But until we see the new Bill we will not know.

We can read the new NIDS policy that was published in April. We can read or listen to the PM’s statement to Parliament in September. But until the Bill is tabled, we will not know what it actually says and, to use the cliché, the devil is always in the details.

So, for example, the new policy and the PM have said that enrolment in the NIDS will now be voluntary, but how is this addressed in the Bill? Could a situation arise in which government or private sector entities could make the presentation of a NIDS card or number mandatory to access service, so that enrolling in NIDS becomes mandatory in fact or practice, if not in law? Need for discussion before passage into law?

Let’s not have a repeat of the previous experience where a self-imposed deadline drives the process by which the legislation goes through the Parliament. And whereas I agree with the PM that the process shouldn’t be boundless, it needs to be realistic in its allowance for genuine consultation and discussion. This allowance for adequate time before passage of the legislation may indeed forestall problems after its passage, as well as simply being in accord with good governance practices.

(Just to note that the PM spoke about a space on the NIDS website that will allow for public comments about the new Bill. This raises the need for other forums for public information and input before the Bill is passed.)

Relevant Documents

PBCJ recording of Sitting of House, September 29, 2020

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=axnFC1Xet48

“…we intend to have the Bill through the Legislative Committee before the end of October. The Bill will come back to this House and out of an abundance of caution, I can state here that it will go to a Joint Select Committee, so that there is no opportunity for unnecessary delays and that if there are issues that arise in the traditional way, we deal with it in the Committee. And the public can have their say. At, you know, I don’t want to determine the Parliamentary process but one would expect that the process is not unlimited. There must be some bound to it. And therefore we would like before the end of the year, this year, that we should be seeking to pass the Bill into law. Madam Speaker, once the Bill is tabled in Parliament, as I said, we will have a Joint Select Committee to navigate it through the Parliament and we hope that the deliberations will proceed apace.” 

PM Holness’ comment re new NIDS Bill timeline – Transcribed from PBCJ recording of Sitting of the House, September 29, 2020


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Constitutional Court Strikes Down Jamaica’s National Identification (#NIDS) Act

In a far-reaching judgment delivered this morning, Jamaica’s Constitutional Court declared the National Identification and Registration Act, 2017 to be “unconstitutional, null, void and of no legal effect. The consequence of this is that the statute is struck down from the laws of Jamaica.” (Press Summary, p. 3 [5])

The full press summary is available here: Press summary of judgment in Julian J Robinson vs The Attorney General of Jamaica – April 2019NIDS press summary blog pic 4-19

The full judgment has been posted on the Supreme Court website (click here). The website also has an audio recording of Chief Justice Sykes delivering the judgment.NIDS judgment on website blog pic

I have also included a copy of the full judgment here: Robinson, Julian v The Attorney General of Jamaica – judgment 12-4-19NIDS judgment blog pic

There is much to be said about this ruling and its implications. But here is the information to start with…


Jamaica’s Constitutional Court to Live Stream Delivery of #NIDS Ruling

Yesterday a press release from Court Management Services informed the media and the public that the Constitutional Court would be delivering “its ruling in the challenge to sections of the National Identification and Registration Act, 2017 on [Friday] April 12, 2019 at 9:30am.” Court Management Services NIDS ruling release 10-4-19

In an unprecedented arrangement, an audio feed of the delivery of the ruling will be live streamed. There are three links to the live stream:

Supreme Court website: http://supremecourt.gov.jm/Supreme Court live audio streaming

Court Management Services website: http://cms.gov.jm/2019/04/10/live-judgment/Court management Services NIDS audio stream

Parish Court website: http://www.parishcourt.gov.jm/Parish Court live stream

This ruling is a highly anticipated one of great public interest and Chief Justice Bryan Sykes is keeping the commitment he made at the end of the court case in October last year that the judgment would be delivered within 180 days.SG tweet 24-10-19 NIDS Court case

The decision to live stream is also a very positive step towards increasing public understanding of court procedures, in strengthening transparency and hopefully in building greater trust in the justice system.

More to say after tomorrow….

Copy of National Identification & Registration Act, 2017NIDS Act title pic

NIDS – The National Identification and Registration Act, 2017 No. 35


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What Info Shall/May Be Included in the #NIDS Database? – What the NIDS Bill Now Says

Whether you support the proposed National Identification System (NIDS) unreservedly or oppose it absolutely or fall somewhere in between, it would be useful to know what information the NIDS Bill passed on November 21, 2017, allows to be collected and stored in the Database. The list of information is set out in the Third Schedule of the Bill and the current Third Schedule is different in a number of respects, when compared with the original Bill tabled in the House on March 21 this year.

In the original Third Schedule, all information to be collected was mandatory. The current Third Schedule distinguishes between information which will be mandatory and shall by included and other information which may be included, some of which will be voluntarily given if the person being registered so chooses. NIDS Third Schedule heading

Part A of the Third Schedule lists the Biographic Information to be collected, all of which is mandatory, except for e-mail address.

NIDS Third Schedule Part A

Part B lists Biometric Information, which is in the categories of Core Biometric Information (B1 & B2), which must be included in the Database, and Other Biometric Information (B3), which may be included in the Database. It has been explained that the information in B2 would only be required when finger prints are not available from the person being registered. The details of this would have to be set out in the Regulations, which are still being drafted. B3(1) refers to distinguishing features, which may be included in the Database, and seems self-explanatory as part of identification, but it is not at all clear under what circumstances it would be expected that an individual’s blood type would be included in the database. Again this points to the fact that many of the details about implementation are to be set out in the Regulations and how important it is that the public has an opportunity to see the Regulations before they are passed.NIDS Third Schedule Part B

Part C lists the Demographic Information that may be included in the Database, but this is entirely optional and the person being registered only needs to give it if they choose to. It is important that this is made clear to people at the time of registration. (Number 9 in Part C is a repreat of Number 5 in Part A(1). It has been explained that this is repeated because the information in Part A wouldn’t be available for statistical purposes, while that in Part C would be, and this information would be useful for such purposes.)NIDS Third Schedule - Part C

Part D lists the other Reference numbers that shall be included in the Database, where they are available. Part E lists the Registrarial History which shall be stored in the Database. This includes information about an idividual’s  National ID cards that have been issued, cancelled or returned. It also includes the information about instances in which an individual’s identity information has been disclosed to a requesting entity. (Clauses 43-45 of the Bill specifically deal with Disclosure of Information.) This is important information that should be permanently stored, as it allows an individual to know to whom their information has been disclosed.NIDS Third Schedule - Part D and Part E

Two other changes since the original Bill was tabled in March 2017 have to do with DNA and with the Minister’s power to amend the Third Schedule.

The initial Bill did not include DNA in the list of biometric information to be collected, but it did not prohibit it. The Bill now specifically excludes the collection of DNA, in the definition of biometric information in Clause 2.

NIDS Bill biometric information definition

The Bill does retain an amendment to the DNA Evidence Act in the Sixth Schedule.NIDS Bill Sixth Schedule - DNA Act

The list of information that shall or may be included in the Database is not set in stone. It can obviously be changed in the future, as is the nature of legislation. However, changes to the Third Schedule cannot be made by the Minister by order, subject to affirmative resolution, as was the case with the initial version of the Bill, but would have to go through the full process for amending the law. This is Clause 57(3).NIDS Bill - Clause 57(3)

It will be important to pay attention to the Regulations which will set out many of the operational details for the implementation of the law. The devil can be in the details at many different levels.

 

 


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350 Words Or Less: Have You Read The #NIDS Bill As Passed?

The National Identification and Registration Bill with the Senate Amendments was passed in Parliament on Tuesday (November 21, 2017), in what turned out to be a controversial process. Whatever you think should happen next, the Bill is now posted on Parliament’s website, if you would like to read it. It has not yet been signed by the Governor General.

The National Identification and Registration Bill

NIDS Bill pic 2

 

 


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National Identification & Registration (#NIDS) Bill: Senate’s 168 Amendments

Last week Monday, November 13, 2017, the Senate passed the National Identification & Registration Bill with 168 amendments. This was the second day on which the Senate had held a marathon session regarding this piece of legislation, the first session being the previous Friday. It is intended that the Bill, commonly referred to as the NIDS Bill, will go back to the Lower House for passage quickly, possibly this week.

At the time of publishing this blog post, the version of the NIDS Bill that is on Parliament’s website is the version that was passed in the Lower House on September 19, 2017, including the 100 plus amendments made there. The version of the Bill with the Senate amendments has not yet been posted, though I hope it will be before the Bill returns to the Lower House.

If you wish to know what the current status of the Bill is, here is a list of the Senate amendments obtained from Parliament: NIDS amendments blog picAmendments moved to the National Identification and Registration Act 2017 by the Senate which can be read in conjunction withNIDS Bill from Lower House blog pic the version of the NIDS Bill currently on Parliament’s website.

UPDATE – November 21, 2017: During an online Twitter/Facebook Town Hall about the NIDS yesterday, Senator Kamina Johnson-Smith, the Leader of Opposition Business in the Senate, who piloted the Bill through the Senate, confirmed that the Bill would be tabled in the Lower House today with the intention of passing it today. She said that once the Bill was tabled, the updated version would be posted on Parliament’s website. What this effectively means is that the public will not have an opportunity to review the Bill with the Senate amendments before it is passed into law.

The timing for passage of the Bill was also confirmed in a tweet from PM Holness’ account. (Note that although the time on the tweet here says 1:28 PM, it actually was about 4:30 PM when the tweet was sent.)PM Holness NIDS tweet 21-11-17