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


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

 


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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.