Thu | Nov 23, 2017

Patria-Kaye Aarons | NIDS and security

Published:Tuesday | November 14, 2017 | 12:00 AM

I'm struggling with whether or not I am in agreement with this National Identification System (NIDS) Bill, especially since it comes at a cost of US$68m. That's just too much money, in my estimation, to spend on a glorified TRN.

As I understand it, NIDS is expected to replace all other government-issued forms of ID (except the passport, because you can't fly on a NIDS - and I guess the driver's licence, because you can't drive on it, either). So it really just replaces the birth certificate, taxpayer registration number, and voter's ID.

While I agree that our existing identification and registration systems are a little all over the place, and I see the benefit of being able to distinctly identify every single Jamaican, I have my doubts. The gains are far greater for the Government and tax collection than they are for the people of Jamaica. I can't practically think of anything that a Jamaican can't access now with the existing forms of ID that NIDS will miraculously fix. So purely as an identification tool, I don't see it as necessary.

For NIDS to work as has been described, there are very many 'what ifs'. How will we ensure we account for every living Jamaican? Criminals today already circumvent the law, so they have little to no need to access government services; electronic or otherwise. Many escape both the government tax net and police dragnet, so they can do without the national ID and their life would remain totally unchanged. How will we force those people to get a NIDS, stand up, and be counted?

I also have huge concerns about who will have access to my information and what they will be able to do with it. How am I assured that I'll be sheltered from identity theft? That my stored information is cybercrime-proof? How do I know some corrupt FLA employee can't randomly use my clean record to get a criminal a gun licence, or some policeman can't be paid off to frame me for a crime with my fingerprint? I need to know. It's been said that government agencies can't add or subtract from your information. I need clarity.

 

CRIME-FIGHTING TOOL

 

Once I am convinced my data is totally secure, I'll be all for NIDS - under one condition. We must use NIDS as a major crime-fighting tool. As THE major crime-fighting tool.

Assurances have been given several times over by those researching and responsible for rolling out the system that NIDS will not collect DNA. It will create a new, clean database to collect two forms of biometrics only - fingerprint and facial recognition. The NIDS will not collect secondary biometrics such as retinal scans, footprints, palm prints and other similar biometrics, unless the candidate does not have fingers to print or a clear fingerprint.

I think this would be a missed opportunity. DNA should be collected. Heck, put a tracking device in the NIDS card. Imagine how many rape cases could finally be solved. Imagine if the police could match prints found at the scene of a house break-in against a database of almost three million fingerprints.

ZOSO would work brilliantly. Every citizen passing in and out of each community would have to scan their card to see if their prints or DNA have featured in previous crimes. Police spot checks would be more fruitful. Street cameras at a shooting in MoBay could pinpoint the perpetrator with accurate precision using facial recognition.

I'm very aware that my position is perhaps very different from some who want their privacy. But considering I make no objection when Uncle Sam requires similar data from me to enter his country, I'm willing to give it to Jamaica. NIDS could be a game changer in the fight for a crime-free Jamaica. That would be worth a US$68m spend.

I need two clearly articulated and documented assurances:

1) My information will be kept secure; and

2) NIDS will play a crucial role in enhancing national security.

Until and unless the Government can say yes to both those questions, I will have to say no to NIDS.

- Patria-Kaye Aarons is a television presenter and confectioner. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and findpatria@yahoo.com, or tweet @findpatria.