Right Steps & Poui Trees


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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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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

 


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Note-Taking in the Visitors’ Gallery in Parliament: 2002…Yes! 2017…No?

Last week Friday (November 10, 2017) I went to Gordon House to observe the continuation of the Senate’s deliberations on the National Identification & Registration (NIDS) Bill.

Gordon HouseWhen I reached the entrance to the Parliament building, a police woman was conducting a search of women’s handbags. I placed my handbag on the table and then was told, as others were before and after me, that note-taking wasn’t allowed in the Visitors’ Gallery and that I would have to leave my papers downstairs if I wanted to go up to the Gallery. The large envelope of papers I was carrying included not only my notebook, but also my copy of the Bill being debated, the Amendments List tabled in the Senate the Friday before and other documents about amendments that we hoped would be made.

I was very annoyed and expressed my annoyance loudly. In exchanges with the police personnel and with the Marshal, I indicated that the rule against note-taking had been challenged years ago and had been changed to allow people in the Gallery to take notes. I was informed that it had been revised last year, that note-taking was now banned and could only take place with the permission of the President of the Senate. Another member of the public and I decided to remain downstairs while the Marshal went to see if we would be allowed in with our papers.

While we waited, we saw Senator K.D. Knight entering and approached him and informed him of what we had been told. He said he would check to see what was happening.

Not long afterwards, the Marshal returned and indicated that we could go up to the Gallery, which we did, taking our papers and notebooks with us. A number of colleagues who entered after I did relayed similar accounts of being told they couldn’t take notes and one had had to leave his papers downstairs.

Later on, prior to starting his presentation on the NIDS Bill, Senator Knight raised the matter of people being told they couldn’t take notes in the Gallery. The President of the Senate, Senator Tom Tavares-Finson, responded saying that he wasn’t clear what the origin of this no note-taking rule was, that it apparently required his permission for notes to be taken and that he was giving his carte blanche permission in that regard. His decision was a much appreciated one.

The reasons for my frustration and annoyance were twofold. Firstly, a rule against note-taking in the Gallery makes no sense. It is hard to see any logical reason for it. Members of the media are allowed to take notes. The Public Broadcasting Corporation of Jamaica (PBCJ) broadcasts the proceedings live, including streaming on the internet. What is the danger that is being protected against?

The other reason for my frustration is that in 2002 – fifteen years ago – Jamaicans for Justice (of which I was and still am a member), Transparency International (JA) and the Farquharson Institute wrote to Parliament asking for a meeting to discuss the no note-taking convention, which we felt should be repealed. We wrote to the Clerk of the House on March 28, 2002 and received a reply on June 13, 2002, indicating that in the interim a meeting of the Standing Orders Committee of the House had discussed the issue, had decided that the convention should be abolished and that a motion to this effect had been put to the House on Tuesday, June 11, 2002 and had been agreed to.

The Minutes of the Meeting of the Standing Orders Committee Held on May 28, 2002 at 2:20 P.M. ( Standing Orders Committee Minutes May 28 2002 ) say the following:Standing Order Committee minutes 28 May 2002

The Report of the Standing Orders Committee of the House of Representatives on Its Deliberations on Proposed Amendment to Standing Order No.65 and the Matter of Note Taking in Parliament ( Standing Orders Committee Report June 4 2002 ) says the following:Standing Orders Committee report June 4 2002

The Hansard Report for the Sitting of the House of Representatives on Tuesday, June 11, 2002 ( Hansard – House of Representatives June 11 2002 pp 626-643) contains the following record of the motion put by Dr Peter Phillips, then Leader of Government Business:

Hansard June 11 2002 aHansard June 11 2002 bHansard June 11 2002c

In 2002, the Government and Opposition members were in agreement that members of the public should be allowed to take notes in the Gallery. By their response to Senator Tavares-Finson’s decision, Government and Opposition Senators seemed to agree last Friday.

A number of us intend to follow up to find out why the no-note taking convention is once again in effect and to ask that it be removed…again. Hopefully, the problem will be quickly corrected.

(As a member and representative of human rights organization Jamaicans for Justice, I worked on this issue when it first arose. I remain a member of the organization. My blog posts are all done in my personal capacity, however.)

 


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Voluntary? Not Anymore: National Identification & Registration Bill Enrolment Amendment

 

One of the things that has been said repeatedly in discussions and presentations about Jamaica’s pending National Identification System is that it wasn’t going to be a mandatory system. Yes, people would need a National Identification Card (NIC) or National Identification Number (NIN) for all transactions with the Government and its agencies. Yes, many private entities might require a NIC or NIN from someone in order to do business with them. You might end up not being able to function in the society if you did not have a NIC or a NIN, but there was no offence or penalty in the Bill for not having a NIC or a NIN.

But that has changed.

On September 19, 2017, the House of Representatives passed the National Identification and Registration Bill, with approximately 100 amendments. Two of those amendments were to Clause 20 in PART IV of the Bill, which deals with Enrolment. Clause 20 deals with “Enrolment of registrable individuals” and two new subclauses were added to the Bill:

NIDS Bill Clause 20 amendments

The penalty referred to in the Fourth Schedule is as follows:NIDS Bill 4th Schedule Clause 20(9) offence

So if someone doesn’t apply to enrol in the National Identification System, without reasonable cause, they will have committed an offence in law and will be liable to a fine of up to $100,000.

So much for persuasion via public education regarding the benefits of the system or coercion via exclusion from being able to interact with public or private entities. It is now made explicit. Enrolment will be mandatory.

A number of significant changes addressing some of the specific problematic aspects of this new piece of legislation have been made to the Bill since it was first tabled in Parliament on March 21 this year. Many problematic issues remain. The Bill now goes to the Senate for further consideration.

NIDS Bill title picThe current version of the National Identification and Registration Bill

 

 


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DNA? No Way! – More on The National Identification & Registration Act, 2017

A March 27, 2017 Jamaica Information Service (JIS) report titled National Identification System Will Be Game Changer – Chuck quotes Minister of Justice Delroy Chuck saying:JIS Min Chuck re natl id 27-3-17

The National Legislation and Registration Act, 2017 has been tabled in Parliament but hasn’t yet been passed. Minister Chuck’s reported statements to a police gathering in St Ann raise a number of concerns, one of which is his inclusion of DNA as one of the biometric identifiers to be included in the National Identification System.

When I wrote a blog post about the legislation last week, I had not seen the report of Minister Chuck’s speech, and I referred to the inclusion of DNA as an alarming future possibility:

So at some point in the future, a Prime Minister could decide to amend the Third Schedule to include DNA as one of the biometric identifiers the Government would have the power to collect from every Jamaican citizen for storage in the database.

It is disturbing that the Minister of Justice sees the inclusion as a welcome current reality, rather than a problematic future possibility! Particularly since the Bill tabled in Parliament in March makes no mention of DNA, except the following in the Sixth Schedule, which deals with Amendments and Repeal of other Acts to be done in association with the new legislation:NIDS Bill - DNA Evidence Act amendment

DNA is not included in the Third Schedule, which lists the wide-ranging information the State will be empowered to collect from every Jamaican citizen for storage in a central database, nor is it included in the definitions of biometric information or core biometric information in the Interpretation section of the Act:NIDS Bill - biometric infoNIDS Bill - core biometric info

However, it would be quite easy to add DNA to the list in the legislation as currently drafted. The regulations have not yet been drafted or made public, and when they are, DNA could be included. Regulations are subject to affirmative resolution – 57(2). Additionally, Section 58 empowers the Prime Minister to amend the Schedules of the Act, including Schedule Three, which would be an even easier method for including DNA.NIDS Bill Section 58

So, I ask the question: Does the Government intend to include DNA as one of the biometric identifiers to be collected for use in the National Identification System? If it does intend to collect DNA, then this should be made clear prior to passage of the Act. If it does not intend to collect DNA, then a specific prohibition needs to be included in the legislation, as has been done for some demographic information:NIDS Bill - demographic info

I have focussed on DNA in this post, given that it is the most extreme suggestion for collection and it has been mentioned by the Minister of Justice. I think, however, that ALL biographical, biometric and demographic information listed in the proposed legislation need to be reviewed and carefully considered before the Act is passed.

Other Questions About the Act Highlighted in JIS Report

The JIS report includes the following:JIS Chuck re Natl ID 27-3-17 banks

This points to the issues of

  • who will be entitled to request or demand the National Identity Number and/or National Identity Card from an individual,
  • under what circumstances such a request or demand can be made,
  • what right an individual will have to refuse such a request or demand and
  • what the consequences of such a refusal will be.

These need to be clearly understood before the Bill is passed into law.

For example, it is stated in the Bill that:NIDS Bill Section 41

This indicates that both public sector and private sector entities will have the power in law to request or demand that an individual provides their National Identification Number or National Identification Card and the individual will be required in law to produce it. (So you could go to the hardware store to buy a tin of paint and be required in law to produce your identity card if asked for it?)

How does this apply to requests or demands by the police? The JIS report states:JIS Chuck re Natl ID 27-3-17 police stop 2

The Bill is silent on any requirement that an individual must carry their National Identification Card at all times. Is it intended that this be included in regulations? Will the police be empowered in law to require someone to produce their National Identification Card? And if so, under what circumstances? As part of a “routine stop”? Only where there is reasonable suspicion of involvement in some criminal offence, committed or imminent? And what is contemplated as the consequence if someone doesn’t have their National Identification Card on them? Would that become grounds for detention? And if people are going to be required to carry their National Identufication Cards with them at all times, at what age would that requirement begin? And would it be all the BIOMETRIC data that would become available on swiping the card in the scenario above?

In another scenario presented by Minister Chuck, the police would have easy access to the fingerprints stored in the centralised database:JIS Chuck re Natl ID 27-3-17 access to fingerprints

This is a misleading portrayal of the process for the police to gain access to fingerprints or whatever core biometric information is eventually stored in the central database. It goes beyond “a quick check with the National Identification System headquarters”. In the Bill tabled the process is far more complex, as it should be given the sensitive nature of individuals’ biometric information. The process is set out in Section 45 of the Act and involves an application to the court and the criteria that a Judge must consider in granting the order for release of the information to the police.

The report ends with reassurances from the Minister:JIS Chuck re Natl ID 27-3-17 focus on crime applications

The security of any information stored in the centralised database is of critical importance. Is there a need for some minimum standards to be included in the legislation?

If you read through the National Legislation and Registration Act, 2017 in its current draft, you would not see the strong emphasis on its use as a crime fighting tool. It is presented primarily as a means for identification in accessing goods and services. This is one of the reasons for scrutiny at the level of a Joint Select Committee and clarification for the public. What are the implications (intended or unintended) of the provisions of the proposed legislation? What are the risks? What is the potential for erosion of rights and abuse by the State?

I am fully aware of the potential for inaccuracies and incompleteness in reports of events and speeches, but if the JIS report is an accurate one, then I am disappointed in Minister Chuck, because he is one of the people I would look to for strong scrutiny of the Act for potential breaches of rights and to lead discussion in that regard.

With or without this JIS report of the Minister’s speech, these are issues for consideration prior to passage of the Act. There are others that I will also raise in future posts.

 


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Does the National Identification & Registration Act Go Too Far?

This is the second weekend in a row that I have spent some time reading through a Bill recently tabled in the Parliament. This time it was the National Identification and Registration Act, 2017, tabled by Prime Minister Holness during his Budget Debate contribution in March. NIDS Bill title

In tabling the Bill, PM Holness said:

This Bill is consistent with a rights-based approach to ensuring that every citizen of Jamaica can be identified and known to the state, so that their rights and entitlements can be preserved and planned for in advance. This will create a tremendous public good by reducing transaction time and cost.

Mr. Speaker, the Registrar General Department will be transformed into the National Identification and Registration Authority and will be responsible for implementing the project. Funding for the project is being negotiated through the IDB and a detailed work plan is already prepared. We expect to be piloting the project in September next year.

From Contribution to the 2017/18 Budget Debate by PM Andrew Holness

Having read through the Bill, I certainly think that it needs to be considered by a Joint Select Committee to benefit from “the closer scrutiny of the Parliament”, as PM Holness said in relation to the Law Reform (Zones of Special Operations) (Special Security and Community Development Measures) Act.

The Act will establish the National and Civil Identification Database and will empower the Government to collect a variety of biographic and biometric information about each citizen of Jamaica and other individuals who are ordinarily resident in Jamaica. The range of information is set out in the Third Schedule of the Act:

NIDS Bill data aNIDS Bill data bNIDS Bill data cNIDS Bill data d

This isn’t even the final list, as the definitions of both “biographic information” and “biometric information” in the Interpretation section of the Act allow for additional data to be included in the Regulations, by referring respectively to “and such other information as may be specified in the regulations” & “or such other biological attribute of the individual as may be specified in the regulations”. The Regulations referred to haven’t yet been drafted or made public, so there is no way of knowing at this point what they might include in the first instance or in the future. (In fact, in more than a dozen places in the Bill, further details are relegated to the Regulations, in some instances leaving me feeling that the country is being asked to sign a contract now and find out the details later. With the devil so often lying in the details, perhaps the Regulations need to be brought to Parliament alongside the Bill or the details need to be included in the Bill itself.)

It is also important to note that Section 58 of the Act gives the power to the designated Minister (who is the Prime Minister in this Act) to amend Schedules: NIDS Bill Section 58

So at some point in the future, a Prime Minister could decide to amend the Third Schedule to include DNA as one of the biometric identifiers the Government would have the power to collect from every Jamaican citizen for storage in the database.

But without going to future possibilities, a look at the existing list includes items that need to be deleted. For example, A 9. The religion of the individual. Why would it be necessary for the Jamaican Government to inquire into, collect, record and store in a permanent database the religion of every citizen of Jamaica? Other items among the biographical information need to be similarly questioned.

The biometric information is of particular concern, as one can hardly get more intrusive of a person’s privacy than to collect such data. Each of those items from A 22 – 33 needs to be carefully reconsidered. The Government will seek to reassure that the data will be secured and protected and only accessed under certain circumstances. I think it needs to be questioned whether by the simple fact of your being born in Jamaica, an act in which you have no choice whatsoever, the Government should have the power in law to collect all this biometric information from you.

There are other aspects of the Bill that need to be carefully considered and I plan to do further posts on this. At the core of the legislation, however, is the information the Government intends to collect about each citizen and so this is a good place to begin.