PM pushing for new national identification system to be in place by year end

By Balford Henry,

A new National Identification and Registration Bill has been completed and is being reviewed at the Cabinet level, Prime Minister Andrew Holness informed the House of Representatives yesterday.

This follows the significant landmark reached in April when the Cabinet approved the draft for a new voluntary National Identification and Registration Policy, which includes the introduction of a national identification system (NIDS).

Holness said that the Bill has been completed and is being reviewed by the NIDS Policy Committee and the Legislation Committee, which is a sub-committee of the Cabinet, and he is hoping that it will be passed by year end.

He said that substantial changes were made to the original policy, which was rejected by the Supreme Court after being passed in the House of Representatives in 2017, and are reflected in the new policy, including voluntary enrolment under the NIDS and the use of minimum biometrics which are fingerprints, a facial image and manual signature only.

He said that his Government is fully cognisant of, and sensitive to the legitimate concerns that persons have regarding data protection and privacy. However, he said that the Government is committed to putting in place the legislative, technological, and independent oversight mechanisms to ensure that the rights of persons are respected and protected.

“This Government intends to embrace a collaborative approach through the traditional process of getting the legislation passed. The Government will also provide an online forum on NIDSFACTS.COM for all Jamaicans to comment on the Bill,” Holness said.

He stated that once the Bill is tabled in Parliament a joint select committee (JSC), comprising members from both sides, will be put in place to navigate the deliberations and arrive at a satisfactory National Identification and Registration Bill.

He added that stakeholders from the public and private sectors, including civil society groups, will be able to comment and provide insights during the JSC deliberations.

He told the House that his Administration has always recognised that the transition to a digital society is a crucial prerequisite to the realisation of Jamaica’s growth and development ambitions.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically accelerated the adoption of digital technologies globally, and our recovery from the pandemic is critically dependent on how quickly we re-engineer and innovate. This applies to all areas of the public and private sectors — health care, education, manufacturing, financial services, to name a few,” Holness said.

Indications are that the Opposition is positive on the idea of having the system introduced, as long as wider participation inside and outside Parliament is available.

Jamaica’s Supreme Court ruled in April 2019 that aspects of the controversial Bill National Identification and Registration Act violated the constitution, and declared the entire law null and void. The followed a walk out of the House of Representatives by Opposition MPs in 2017, after which the Government went ahead and passed the Bill.

In delivering the judgment, Chief Justice Bryan Sykes said it was the unanimous decision of the court that the mandatory requirement of NIDS for persons to submit biometric information was a violation of the right to privacy, stipulated in the constitution.

The court decided to strike it down in its entirety because the aspects which did not infringe on the constitutional rights of citizens were not enough to stand alone.

The court action was brought by People’s National Party (PNP) General Secretary Julian Robinson on behalf of himself, his constituents in St Andrew South East, and the members of the PNP. However, more recently Robinson has suggested that the Government go-ahead with the revised Bill and have it reviewed by the JSC.

“As policymakers and citizens, we must fast-track the legislation and infrastructure necessary to succeed in the Fourth Industrial Revolution,” Holness said yesterday.

He noted there are two big hurdles that the country needed to overcome to become a digital society. The first being what is referred to as the “digital divide” and the second being the key hurdle to becoming a digital society, which is digital identification, or “Digital ID,” for every citizen of Jamaica through which the citizen can be authenticated unambiguously through a digital channel.

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