Allan Douglas | NIDS crosses red line
There have been many instances in our country's relatively short history where leadership decisions have been made that could so easily have had adverse effects on the health of Jamaica's democracy.
I believe the present Government's recent decision to introduce the National Identification and Registration Act (NIRA) could have such an adverse impact. The Opposition has quite correctly challenged the constitutionality of the introduction of the National Identification Scheme (NIDS).
To justify this piece of legislation, the Government has cited the high level of crime, and sees NIDS as a measure to reduce crime. Unfortunately, there is no evidence to support the contention that NIDS would reduce crime. Issuing national ID cards has certainly not reduced crime in France, Germany, Italy, and Spain where such a scheme exists.
I understand that NIRA makes it compulsory for all Jamaican citizens residing here to be registered and be bearers of a NIDS card. The act further makes it a criminal offence not to be compliant. It follows then, that our police would be authorised by law to stop any citizen of Jamaica and demand to be shown his or her NIDS card. Failure to do so would likely lead to prosecution.
My concern is that this could lead to the police profiling certain people in deciding just who should be stopped and checked for possession of their card. Giving the police a licence to stop anyone at random is an infringement of our constitutional right to be able to be "free to move about without an obligation to carry a pass, and not to be subject to arbitrary or random stop and searches."
National ID cards have often been described as 'local or internal passports', which every citizen would be required to have on his/her person in order to move about in his/her country to conduct personal or lawful business.
NIDS requires a large amount of personal information/data that is not voluntarily provided, information we will have to trust will be properly secured. How confident are we that the security of such information will not be compromised? Just who will be responsible for securing it?
It is noted that our personal information/data will not be made available to others, except when it is in the interest of national security. In that case, it may be made available to others. Just who or what will be the arbiter in the decision to release such information?
In addition, in the past, very sophisticated and advanced systems have been compromised/
breached or hacked, and one's personal data would be subject to abuse, putting the victim at great risk and expense and/or loss of rights guaranteed for every citizen of Jamaica by virtue of the Constitution. Our political leaders should not believe for one moment that their personal information/data could not also be used by their opponents to gain political advantage.
So Jamaicans will be compelled to be NIDS registered, and those who are not will be guilty of an offence. In addition, because we will also not be able to conduct business or be provided with services by government bodies or agencies, we will not be able to be registered as voters or exercise our franchise at the polls. Those so disenfranchised will effectively have no say as to who represents them in Parliament, and thus have no voice in the selection of the government.
These constitutional rights for us, Jamaicans, are fundamental to the health and preservation of our democracy, and we should jealously guard the same.
I urge the Government to give very careful thought to the introduction of NIDS or any such similar scheme that interferes with or violates our rights. It is still not too late, regardless of any ruling by the court with regard to the Opposition's claim, to withdraw this piece of legislation. They need not be afraid of doing so, as they would be in good company: the British did exactly that with its NIDS.