Tue | Apr 23, 2019

Paul Golding | Don't be an enemy of NIDS

Published:Sunday | December 24, 2017 | 12:10 AMPaul Golding

The National Identification System (NIDS) bill is likely to become the most revolutionary piece of legislation in the history of Jamaica. It is certainly one of the most ambitious in scope, as it will directly impact every single individual Jamaican. The current advertising/awareness campaign does not speak to the possible disruption and opportunities that will result from its implementation. It will represent a paradigm shift in how citizens/customers interact with Government and the private sector. 

There are two global factors strongly influencing NIDS implementation in Jamaica: the capitalist creed of consumerism and the United States’ quest to protect the homeland from terrorism. Modern capitalist economies must constantly increase production and grow if they are to survive. Growth is increasingly based on digital technologies and business models like Uber, AirBnB and Amazon.

For there to be continued growth, there is need for new markets. NIDS is an attempt to integrate Jamaica into the digital economy so that big companies can have access to our market. The Jamaican market is small, however, and is, therefore, the beachhead to the rest of the Caribbean. A similar approach was used to liberalise the telecommunications market in the region. Telecommunications giants in the US wanted to expand their market reach globally, and they used the World Trade Organization (WTO) to push for market liberalisation. Liberalisation of the Jamaican telecommunications market was the catalyst for regional liberalisation. The same is expected of NIDS.

Since the terrorist attacks of 9/11, the US has been a major advocate of biometric national security to remove anonymity. It is argued that terrorists have operational advantage and better protection when they operate anonymously. To improve US national and global security, there has been a push to develop comprehensive identity-management systems that link people’s identity through their life cycle from birth certificate to death certificate and everything in-between, including driver’s licence, marriage licence, and voter registration.


The US, for example, is implementing a national biometric identity system in Afghanistan. These biometric national identification systems give the US the ability to screen persons entering the homeland, thereby reducing the risk of terrorism. This analysis strongly implies that data collected by NIDS will be shared with other governments for identification purposes, including US Department of Homeland Security and, possibly, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).

The use of biometric and, more so, multiple biometrics in the NIDS will maximise accuracy, security and de-duplication. De-duplication is a technique used to eliminate duplicate data and ensures uniqueness. Other attempts to achieve uniqueness through Taxpayer Registration Number (TRN) were unsuccessful, because persons could have, for example, more than one TRN and, therefore, were not unique.

With the advance in biometric technology uniqueness can now be achieved. NIDS will require the collection of multiple biometrics, including facial recognition, fingerprint, possible retinal scan and a manual signature. Different biometrics are better at different tasks. Iris scans provide more data than fingerprints and are, therefore, more accurate for de-duplication. However, fingerprints are easier to authenticate. Fingerprints alone will not suffice, as many people, the elderly and manual labourers, have worn fingerprints and some have damaged eyes. Using both methods reduce the failure-to-enrol rate to very low levels. Iris scans also allow younger children to enrol because the unique patterns in the eye develop and become stable before fingerprints do. 

Consistent with global standards, NIDS will be comprehensive in scope, encompassing the entire population, including prisoners, newborn and immigrants living in the country for more than six months. The only exceptions are persons who are entitled to immunities and privileges under the Diplomatic Immunities and Privileges ACT.

Based on the biographic data attributes to be collected, specified in the Third Schedule of the bill, NIDS is tantamount to a census. The data-collection period spanning 2019 to 2021 will coincide with the date for the next Jamaican census and, therefore, both exercises should be treated as one and managed accordingly through a central authority. Note that NIDS is likely to change how census data is collected in the future.

In addition to the biographic data, the database that underpins NIDS will harmonise data from multiple sources, including data from the TRN, driver’s licence, passport, National Insurance Scheme (NIS), birth certificate, PATH, national ID, electoral ID, and National Health Fund. 


There is also the possibility to integrate this database with the National Land Agency and the Social Development Commission databases. The implications of this integration are pregnant with possibilities for electronic government, governance and policy. First, the integration should be the basis for public-sector reform involving process re-engineering and the streamlining of government functions. This will result in public-sector staff retrenchment.       

NIDS will increase financial inclusion. Banks already have to comply with know-your-customers (KYC) laws that require them to confirm a customer’s identity with ‘reasonable belief’. With NIDS persons on the Programme of Advancement Through Health and Education (PATH) should be required to open bank accounts to access social services. Currently, most persons on PATH do not have all the requirements to open a bank account. They may not have proof of address, or TRN, or may not have their real name on their national ID. NIDS will increase the efficiency of banking operations and create a single, standard identification to meet KYC requirements for customers.

Egypt and Nigeria have taken financial inclusion a step further. In 2015, Egypt’s government signed an agreement with MasterCard to link citizens’ national ID to an existing national mobile money platform. The Nigerian government has partnered with MasterCard to produce a national identity card that doubles as a payment card. The way we distribute national pensions in Jamaica will also change and, generally, will facilitate much more cashless transactions. This means that banks and the financial sector should have a vested interest in NIDS.         

The implication of NIDS on the general and local government election process is likely to be significant. The national identification card (NIC) should also be used as a voter registration card. This means that the voters’ list could be purged of duplicate voters using biometric authentication and dead persons would also be removed.

There is the long-term possibility of biometric verification of voters during elections and the whole issue of voter registration is likely to be a thing of the past. The pool of persons for jury selection will also expand. There are other potential benefits, including crime prevention, tax collection, education, health care and agriculture. There are also the benefits from linking NIDS with the private sector to ensure universal use.

However, one article cannot address the breadth of issues surrounding NIDS. Experience has shown that successful implementation of national identity programmes require sustained popular and political support as well as intergovernmental cooperation. At this point, the Government’s major challenge is to garner popular support. The acid test will come from legislation surrounding privacy and data sharing. To achieve the objectives of NIDS and the convenience and greater efficiency in government operations, there will be the need to compromise privacy. The question is how much.  

- Professor Paul Golding is dean of the College of Business and Management, University of Technology, Jamaica. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and pgolding@utech.edu.jm.