Jamaica's NIDS setback of its own making

Gilbert Morris

Sunday, April 14, 2019

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For two years now I have been writing about Jamaica's national identification system (NIDS). I wrote much of what follows below two days ago (April 10, 2019). Today, April 12, 2019, the Jamaica High Court rejected the entire NIDS programme as unconstitutional, a breach of constitution privacy, void, and of no legal effect.

This is reason for despondency. Blame will be lain by Opposition at the feet of Government; Government will blame Opposition; elites will blame the ignorant poor. The poor will suppose they won against a dominant national oligarchy. It is altogether a sad, dispiriting affair.

The problem is not the national identity programme, it's the value proposition for which the programme is merely a means to an end. Our tendency in the Caribbean is to adopt programmes from abroad in a materialist manner. Other nations adopt technologies because the technology is a means to enhance the life of their citizens in some specific way(s) that has the general agreement of the population. Caribbean governments tend to impose (along party lines) or to adopt processes from other nations without the philosophical foundations that drove those nations to undertake such adoptions.

Take Estonia's national electronic ID system: Estonia's aim was not the technology, but actually to redefine the person for the Digital Age. Estonia's philosophical underpinning was to build a “trust” system with “trust protocols”. That meant not imposing (and not appearing to be imposing) a system, but developing a national consensus for adoption based on both the trust factor and the benefits the national electronic ID system brought to Estonia's citizens, as follows:

a. to constitutionalise digital identity as a human right, owned by each citizen, so that Government must give a justification each time that ID compact is entered;

b. to devolve or decentralise power from the central government to the citizen;

c. to transfer ownership of national resources to the citizen, for which digital ID is the pathway and access mode; and

d. to transition the very concept of government from rulers to “government as a service”.

Estonia adopted these society-reshaping objectives before they launched digital ID. So the digital ID compact became merely the access mode to achieve these ideals of social-political and economic reorganisation.

Nations with high degrees of corruption cannot adopt electronic IDs (unless they are actual dictatorships), because the citizen will suspect it as being a rouse to control him or her. Caribbean citizens are rightly suspicious because our governments prioritise control over every other form of power.

Ordinary Jamaicans own nothing. They perceive themselves as owning only their identity. They will refuse to give it up merely for convenience.

I have advised countries that a national ID must encompass four features:

1. Wealth path: Transfer (as Singapore and Norway have done) all government-held enterprises to the direct ownership of citizens, with the ID programme as the access point. In this way, the electronic ID is not merely access to convenience, but access to wealth for ordinary citizens.

2. Government as service: Make it a pathway to services, which forces transparency on government.

3. But before all of that, like Estonia, build the system to guarantee that government cannot have access to citizen's data without citizens knowing in real time with reasons provided.

4. Efficiency and security: The convenience factor will take care of itself, since that is implicit in the nature of digital protocols.

The failure of NIDS is tragic because electronic IDs will be adopted for the right reasons or imposed for the wrong ones. That is the irresistible 21st century future. Our governments must understand and prioritise the broader contexts.

The problem in Jamaica and the rest of the region is we want to hold on to centralised power and rulership, whilst adopting what Estonia has done without Estonia's commitment to prerequisite decentralising, non-rulership ideals — which is the root of the suspicion.

They have promoted the transactional value of the technology, rather than the fundamental value of the principles for which it was adopted and upon which it is based.

As such, Jamaica, in referring to the convenience of the NIDS technology and the credentials of its engineers, should promote to its citizens a secondary means, rather than a primary end.

Professor Gilbert NMO Morris was appointed visiting professor at George Mason University in 1996, where he taught across four faculties. He was appointed lecturer in history for The Smithsonian Associates at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC, where he lectured on the history of revolutions. He was a member of the Mid-Atlantic Scholars at Princeton University and was distinguished lecturer on Global Finance for the UK Law Society in 2003. He is also a distinguished fellow of the Sir William Goodenough College, London. He was chairman of the National Investment Agency and Bank of Turks and Caicos Islands, and was appointed as special envoy from the Office of the Premier to the All Party Committee of the House of Lords, UK. Morris is co-author of the New York Times best-seller Rescue America , an analysis of the history of the US economy and entitlements. Send comments to the Observer or chairman@caicosbrothers.com.


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