Sun | May 26, 2019

Patria-Kaye Aarons | Privacy versus anonymity

Published:Tuesday | April 16, 2019 | 12:17 AM

Let me establish up front that I am 100 per cent in agreement with the ruling handed down on Friday with regard to the National Identification System (NIDS) being declared null and void.

My initial objection to the bill wasn’t the legal reasoning articulated by Justice Bryan Sykes. I never went to lawyering school. Me not wanting NIDS had everything to do with the break-neck speed with which it was being rushed through the House. All because of timelines tied to yet another loan with fine print kept secret from the people of Jamaica. My granny said don’t run down bus, man, or money. And the hurry to pass the bill felt like running down money.

My unpopular position is that I would actually support NIDS being used as a crime-fighting tool. My beautiful Jamaica has descended to a level of lawlessness that’s downright frightening. And no one seems capable of implementing the solutions we need for a safer country.

According to a December 2017 Gleaner article, about two-thirds of all shootings that year remain unsolved. Security forces also had no idea who committed half of the more than 1,500 murders.

I got excited at the thought of police visiting a crime scene, dusting for fingerprints, and being able to name a suspect within minutes just by cross-referencing the prints with those in the NIDS database.

But I’m real about the Jamaica I live in. I would only support crime-fighting NIDS with the cautious caveat that assurances be given that.

n That systems would be tamper-proof. So no one with either a vendetta against me or looking for a scapegoat fingerprint could incriminate me in a crime I never committed.

n All central system changes would need to be tracked by ID numbers. Everything that’s deleted, added and even looked at on the central repository of NIDS would need to be tied specifically to one user; persons should be made to answer why they accessed and/or changed my private information.

COULD BE DETRIMENTAL

The reality, however, is that we don’t have a history of dealing well with confidentiality and corruption. I can imagine the nightmare that access to NIDS information could create. Implementation of this national databank of everyone’s personal information could prove far too detrimental (and far too expensive) for us to experiment and get it wrong. And even with all the PR work the Government has done to date, I’m not convinced of the security of the proposed systems.

I also am still not sufficiently convinced that one of our existing forms of ID can’t be amended to achieve the same end. I believe that if the motive for NIDS is truly well intentioned, it deserves weigh-in and buy-in from both sides of the political divide.

As I listened to Justice Sykes and the lead-up to the striking down of NIDs, much of the arguments I heard from him hinged on the constitutionally entrenched “Right to Privacy”.

DISTINCT DIFFERENCE

In my mind, I struggle now with the distinct difference between privacy and anonymity. Privacy speaks to not being observed or disturbed by the State. But I feel like what obtains at present for some Jamaicans takes it to a whole other level. There are those among us who are unknown and undetectable, and I am not comfortable with that.

Does the right to privacy equate to the right to anonymity? Shouldn’t your country know who you and where to find you? Isn’t that just basic? This isn’t about the tax man or some apocalyptic mark of the beast. In a country of less than three million people, I feel that we ought to know who is who.

Anonymity currently gives some people protection from prosecution. I can’t catch you and charge you if you don’t exist, according to updated government records, all some people are is a birth certificate. That’s a problem.

I’m still for NIDS, But only if it will help to make Jamaica safer. If it will help us catch criminals faster, it would be worth any amount of money spent. No one should be able to hide in the obscure shadows of having no adult national identity. At the very least, they should have a face, a name and an address.

A mandatory ID is important; but how we go about doing it, how we secure the information, and what we do with it when collected must be questions asked, and the answers agreed upon by all involved.

Jamaica won the case on Friday, and truthfully, if a consensus is reached by both political parties on a new NIDS bill that doesn’t break the bank, considers the existing rules of law, is thoughtfully and carefully drafted and ensures that it can be used to fight crime, Jamaica can win again.

Patria-Kaye Aarons is a confectioner and broadcaster. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and findpatria@gmail.com.