Right Steps & Poui Trees


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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.)


Constitutional Court Judgment on Good Faith Certificates Related to the Keith Clarke Case

The Constitutional Court hearing the matter regarding the Good Faith Certificates (also known as immunity certificates) issued to the three Jamaica Defence Force soldiers who are defendants on trial for killing Keith Clarke delivered its judgment yesterday, February 18, 2020.

The delivery of the judgment was made available to the public by a live audio stream, which continues an important development towards making certain court proceedings more accessible to those unable to attend court. This was done for the Constitutional Court’s judgment in the National Identification Act challenge last year April, and  I hope that this practice will be continued and expanded on in the future.Supreme Court 18-2-2020 c

When I checked this morning, the judgment had not yet been posted on the Supreme Court’s website, so I am sharing a copy here for those who may be interested in reading it.

Constitutional Court judgment 18-2-2020 border

SUPREME COURT OF JUDICATURE OF JAMAICA – [2020] JMFC Full 01


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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