DEPUTY director general of the Statistical Institute of Jamaica (STATIN) Leesha Delatie-Budair is seeking to allay fears in some quarters that data collected in the upcoming 2022 population and housing census will be used as a feeder for the state's national identification system (NIDS).
"As we have said many times, the census data is confidential, the census data and every data collected by STATIN is confidential; it is not shared with anyone, not even another government entity in terms of the confidential information, so there is no backdoor to get to the NIDS because the data does not feed into it," Delatie-Budair told editors and reporters during this week's Jamaica Observer Monday Exchange at the newspaper's St Andrew offices.
"It is a completely independent process and any data we share is anonymised, so your personal information will never be shared with anyone outside of STATIN," she said further.
The exercise will begin after September 12, which has been labelled Census Day, and will run until December, STATIN officials have said. It is the 15th such exercise.
NIDS, which is expected to also be fully operational this year, will establish a reliable database of all Jamaican citizens and will involve the issuance of a unique lifelong national identification number to every person. In the long term, NIDS may be used alongside a multi-purpose card, or be uploaded onto smartphones. This secure voluntary tool can also verify an individual's identity, facilitate the electronic signing of documents, and securely access a range of government services online.
Finance Minister Dr Nigel Clarke, in speaking about the census in July, had told Parliament that the data from it is an essential tool for policymakers as well as a source of information for businesses and the people of the country.
"Critical decisions are informed by data coming out of the census," he said while noting that it captures information on the country's housing stock and key social and demographic statistics that inform policy.
In the meantime, STATIN officials said that other data mined by the entity continue to be much sought-after by various interests.
"I can tell you we get requests for data; when major government activities are being done we do get requests for community-level data. One of the most recent examples and very poignant, when COVID-19 started, the Ministry of Health convened a national COVID-19 research committee and one of the first set of data requests we got was for community-level data from the census to try and ascertain what our demographic situation was at the community level and how best to strategise and prepare the health centres," Delatie-Budair said.
She added that data requests were also received from the Government for various developments it intends to undertake under the Jamaica 60 legacy programme.
STATIN Director General Carol Coy, who was also at the Monday Exchange, said other entities outside of Government also beat a path to the institute's doors.
"We do get a lot of requests from private sector entities. Major players, when they are looking to open a new branch, they will call to get data at the community level. We have gotten requests, for example, from major manufacturers looking at a particular location; they want to know what is the demographic in that area to see if they can get labour and stuff like that. We have gotten requests from private sector entities that are looking at rolling out a new programme and... they will ask for the data from the census or other STATIN data sources. So the data is widely used," Coy said, but pointed out that the shared data do not include people's personal information.
She said while there is no cost attached to requests for standard data, requests which require additional efforts will attract fees.