Why we are not gleeful about Constitutional Court ruling on NIDS

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

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Though we are not surprised, we are also not gleeful that the Constitutional Court has struck down the National Identification and Registration Act that was intended to establish the national identification system (NIDS).

We are among those who embraced the idea of a National identification and data system for all the good reasons contained in the now defunct Act. Yet, we had cautioned — clearly without success — about the importance of the privacy question, which was at the core of the problems that bothered the Constitutional Court.

Hence our support of the three main private sector groups in their position that the court's ruling does not nullify the broad policy objectives that were sought to be achieved to modernise the Jamaican society and “ensure that each citizen is accounted for in our advancement towards the achievement of Vision 2030”.

We also endorse the call of the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica, Jamaica Chamber of Commerce, and the Jamaica Manufacturers and Exporters Association for political consensus to establish a national identification system.

“We strongly urge both political parties to immediately commence consultations with a view to settling the contentious differences in the legislation and avoiding the provisions which offend our constitution, so as to return a Bill to the House and enable a smooth and early passage,” the groups said in a joint statement.

As a crime-ridden country, where people are fearful of identifying criminals, Jamaica has a vested interest in each citizen having a national identification number and card. Such a tool is critical at police checkpoints and in the courts.

We were also unhappy with the provision seeking to prevent access to services, both public and private, to citizens who fail to obtain the national identification. This cannot be entertained, especially if they are taxpayers.

Moreover, the Government clearly misjudged the deep-seated fear that Jamaicans have about what becomes of private information they give to the State, who has access to it, and to what use will it be put.

Notice that there is no obvious fear of giving such biometric information to foreign embassies in exchange for even a one-day visitor's visa — although one could credibly argue that it is given under duress to avoid being refused said visa.

The ruling has put the Government in a quagmire. The Andrew Holness-led Administration was probably badly advised by its legal machinery and now has to ponder whether it should wheel and come again, as we say in Jamaican parlance, or should it abandon the idea.

Assuming that Mr Holness did not force his will upon his legal advisors, they certainly cannot be part of any new attempt to redesign a national ID system that avoids all the pitfalls of that ill-fated one.

One consideration is whether anything can be salvaged from the Act. There is no harm in taking the matter to a joint select committee of Parliament, which can receive submissions from a wide cross section of Jamaicans.

Finally, much money has been spent, especially on public education, and we hope the Government can extricate itself from any outstanding commitments without incurring costs for breach of contract.


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