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Committee to re-examine $3-m fine, prison time for NIDS breaches

Senior staff reporter

Friday, January 22, 2021

THE question of whether a prison term should also be an option in addition to the proposed fine of $3 million for individuals found guilty of leaking or misusing protected information under the National Identification System (NIDS) is to be re-examined by the joint select committee of Parliament considering the legislation.

The question was one of several raised by concerned citizens during the second in a series of town-hall meetings to sensitise the public about the pending identification system on Wednesday evening.

Presently, as crafted, under Section 30 of the National Identification and Registration Act, 2020 any official of the National Identification and Registration Authority (NIRA) – which will replace the Registrar General's Department (RGD) in rolling out and managing the NIDS – who misuses or provides information unlawfully, or anyone who provides information to anyone which is not provided for in the Act commits an offence and the person, having committed the offence, breaches the duty of secrecy or confidentiality imposed by this Act, [and] shall be liable on conviction before a parish court to a fine not exceeding $3 million, in lieu of a term of imprisonment.

Justice Minister Delroy Chuck, who also chairs the joint select committee, responding to the concerns, said the parliamentary body would be re-examining the issue.

“It's a suggestion that came about in one of the last virtual meetings; persons proposed that there should be a prison term. One of the clauses provides that there should be a maximum fine of $3 million, where information that is stored is released by a member of staff, either while employed or after the person leaves employment. We thought that $3 million would be a good enough deterrent but the suggestion has been put to us whether or not a prison term should also be an option,” Chuck stated.

“We are not going to make a decision here, but it is something when we come to consider the clause; we must give it due consideration whether in lieu of a fine, not only a term of imprisonment but an option should be given to the judge where such large amounts of information has been leaked of individual or individuals whether a judge should not have the option to impose a prison sentence.

“It is going to be considered by the committee when we deliberate on the Bill,” the justice minister promised.

Junior minister and Member of Parliament for North Central Clarendon Robert Nesta Morgan, commenting on the issue, said he had no doubt as to the stance he would be adopting. “The whole issue of the consequences of sharing, without authorisation, the personal identification information of a citizen is a serious matter, so I think it is a very important decision,” he said.

“ As a legislator my position has always been pro-citizen, pro-consumer so anything that protects the consumer is something I would fall on the side of,” he added.

Chuck, in response, said: “There is no doubt there will be different views. At the last meeting [Foreign Affairs] Minister Kamina Johnson Smith intimated that her position would favour a stronger deterrent, it's a matter we will discuss.”

NIDS will provide a comprehensive and secure structure to enable the capture and storage of identity information for Jamaican citizens. Under the system, which will have anti-fraud features, each citizen will be assigned a unique nine-digit National Identification Number (NIN) for life. This secure tool can verify an individual's identity, facilitate the electronic signing of documents and secure access of services online and inline. The Government has insisted that Jamaicans will not be forced to take the number.