Tue | Aug 21, 2018

Daniel Thwaites | Give me a bush jacket

Published:Sunday | November 26, 2017 | 12:00 AM

Last week, I mentioned my complete lack of confidence that the Jamaican State is ready and equipped to administer a central database of its citizens' sensitive private information. In the week past, the Government has gone ahead and passed the law enabling the National Identification System, ignoring cogent, reasonable, vocal and sustained opposition from a number of groups.

It's a done deal. So law-abiding Jamaicans need to prepare for the invasion. And this is a law-abiding column, so I'm going to propose some alternative to the civil disobedience that I envision is right around the corner. I hope this time the Nidsiots listen.

To demonstrate confidence in the system, the first registrants should be all members of parliament and councillors. Next, ALL members of the Jamaica Constabulary Force and Jamaica Defence Force must register. That should test the mettle of the system before they turn it loose on the public. After the police and soldiers, the rollout should take in the civil servants, which has already been announced. (Audley should send a reminder during the wage talks). I want the conveners, conceptualisers, and enforcers of the system to submit to it before they get around to putting the general public under the discipline.

Check out the National Land Agency's (NLA) website. Seriously, go check it out. There you will find that with some limited information on any parcel of land, you can discover other information about that parcel. So if you have the title reference, the valuation number, or the street address, and put it into the NLA database, it gives you the remainder of the parcel information. Of course, you can use the information you get there and query all sorts of other information. For example, you can check if the taxes are paid up on any parcel.

So a colleague, perhaps out of idleness, decided to look at the information NLA has for our national leaders. Here is the result of his little research. You can find Portia's house there with all the information available. P.J.'s is there, too. Seaga's is there. Phillips' information is there. But not Mr Holness'. On the famous piece of Beverly Hills, the database suddenly has no information. It's blank.

Now I don't care to understand the rationale for why that would be so, or whether there is a rationale that sensibly excludes that property when every other leader's house is included. My point is a lot simpler and derivative: Do you trust these people? If a simple land database can't be run evenly and without suspicious gaps, have you any reason to believe that a far more sensitive and consequential database would be?




So back to how I propose to avert civil disobedience. An amendment might be brought to NIDS permitting some of us to opt out. Designate a parish, or if space is too short, a village, where those of us uninterested in handing over our personal data might congregate.

Call it a zone of special operations for the dissenting freefolk who don't wish to be poked and prodded by the Government. That way the freefolk can continue a Maroon existence outside the grip of the State's fancy identification system.

It's the wiser way. You see, we've heard about the massive loan to be spent on developing this database. However, we're all aware that when Government borrows like that, not all of the money will actually reach the road. There are compromises along the way. After all, I'm very certain the records will reveal oodles of fresh cash earmarked and spent on roads and bushing and gully cleaning in Montego Bay before this last likkle rain. You witnessed the result.

Still, let's lay to one side the integrity of the road (or database) after they parcel out the work to the lucky contractors. The plan for maintenance should concern you even more. And in this case, that's particularly acute, because setting up such a system is an invitation for every basement-dwelling hacker in Indonesia to go after your information. And the only thing standing in-between you and that hacker is the same people charged with stopping the murders in that same Bobby-Montague-Bay.

As a further aside, I note the Government advertising that DNA is not being captured by NIDS. Whew! But again, it's just a matter of time. The DNA of prisoners and convicts will be integrated shortly. Who could object to that? Then it will be arrestees, certain vulnerable populations, and other wards of the State. They need to be monitored and tracked, right? Next, after some horrific and sensationalised story of child abduction, you will give it up to register for school. Because, y'know, the children. And safety. Then it will seep into the populace, metastasising like a ravenous cancer, and soon DNA records will belong to the Government.

All the same, DNA will raise a number of interesting problems and some nightmarish possibilities. For example, just this week we heard how Jamaica, because of its thriving and expanding underground garment industry, leads the world in producing 'jackets'. Now imagine for a moment what will happen when the Government will be able to know that Mr Smith's son, who he has dutifully bathed and dressed and taken to register at school, is in fact Mr Brown's son. Ah, yes! Cutlass will pass. Whatever the positives of these coming developments, given the suspected rate of bun on this our beloved Jacket Island, I highly suspect that it won't help our murder rate to improve.

I don't want any part of it. I will rather tek to de bush, and I will also tek de jacket. Call it a bush jacket! And I will live free in whatever part of Jamaica the Government will kindly designate as a ZOSO for privacy.

- Daniel Thwaites is an attorney-at-law. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.