Nothing to fear about NIDS, PM insists

BY ALPHEA SAUNDERS
Senior staff reporter
saundersa@jamaicaobserver.com

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

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PRIME Minister Andrew Holness has again shot down concerns that citizens' private information will be compromised with the implementation of the National Identification System (NIDS).

Speaking on Sunday night at the Jamaica Labour Party's West Kingston and Area Council One annual conference at Kingston High School, downtown, he argued that there is a distinction to be made between anonymity and privacy.

“If you believe that because the State doesn't know your name, that means that your business is private, you're making a mistake,” he stated, pointing out that people freely provide their information when they, for example, use mobile phones, travel between borders, or open bank accounts, all of which require the divulging of personal and biometric information.

NIDS has been a source of controversy since the Government started to forge ahead with the national civil registry system. Legislators locked horns in both Houses of Parliament for weeks over the provisions, some of which the Opposition insists are unconstitutional.

The Opposition People's National Party now has the Government in court over the matter, even while the Administration continues to roll out activities for implementation of the NIDS.

The Government has also insisted that many of the provisions to which the PNP is now objecting originated from previous drafts of the law crafted by that party.

According to the Opposition, the legislation governing NIDS violates eight of 25 fundamental rights and freedoms.

“I don't know what the big argument is about privacy,” Holness said on Sunday night. “Anonymity is not privacy. Privacy is when the Government sets rules and regulations about what information cannot be shared or can be shared under what circumstances, and defends those rules with integrity.”

He insisted that there are no reasonable grounds on which Jamaicans should harbour fear of a central civil registry. “Yes, you have the potential [for] the Government, who can use your identity, to target you, but dem can do dat anyway. But when you have a Government that is building out your civil registry, it means that we can provide you with so much more service so much more efficiently,” he stated.

The prime minister also told supporters that a unique identity would allow Jamaicans easier access to credit. “So you're selling in the market, you have a good income coming in, but you try go to one of the banks, they can't identify you. Now, with the national ID, you have an identity. That means something. Banks can now consider lending you funds because we know who you are and we know where to find you — so your identity becomes an asset,” he said.

He implored citizens to resist “backward thinking”, embrace technology, and move away from informality. “We have nothing to hide,” he said.

Meanwhile, he pointed out that the data protection law is a companion measure to the NIDS designed to protect people's information, and that the report from the Joint Select Committee, which heard submissions about the intended law from various groups, should be finalised shortly.

That committee, formed late 2017, was chaired by former Technology Minister Dr Andrew Wheatley, but has not met since March.

Opposition spokesman on technology Julian Robinson recently called on the Government to give priority to passing the legislation.

According to Robinson, since the March meeting, where a technical team was asked to prepare a report on the submissions, there has been no communication about the resumption of meetings to conclude deliberations. A new chairman has also not yet been named.

Media practitioners and other stakeholders have made clear their staunch resistance to some of the provisions in the Data Protection Bill during sittings of the committee, and have suggested that media houses be exempted.

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