Mon | Feb 19, 2018

Gordon Robinson | Taking NIDS out of the shadows

Published:Sunday | January 21, 2018 | 12:00 AM

This is how the Office Of the Prime Minister's (OPM) website 'sold' the National Identification System (NIDS).

"Why a NIDS?

At present, Jamaica does not have a central national database with the accompanying systems to support secure, reliable identity verification and authentication. The various systems issue different numbers based on the diverse standards and are not necessarily able to connect and share information with each other due to logistical or legal barriers. Therefore, individuals can assume multiple identities."

At least up to November 15, 2017, despite not citing a single example of multiple identities or how it affected "verification and authentication" (rank tautology), Government carried this (er, um) euphemistic spin on NIDS. JIS, in announcing a 2019 NIDS pilot, reported:

"NIDS, which is being facilitated under the National Identification and Registration Bill, will provide a comprehensive and secure structure to enable the capture and storage of identity information for all Jamaicans ... ."

Yawn!

Further down came this:

"With anticipated funding of US$68 million from the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), Government intends to put NIDS infrastructure and systems in place over the next 12 months, beginning with the pilot project. This is expected to be followed by the national roll-out in September 2019 over a period of three to four years.

The layered roll-out and management of NIDS will be handled by a new agency, the National Identification and Registration Authority (NIRA), which will replace the Registrar General's Department (RGD) and provide more enhanced services."

Well, lookee here! Jamaica's NIDS is funded by the IDB to the tune of US$68 million. I guess it's pretty important to the IDB. But, there's more. RGD, which has overseen COMPULSORY REGISTRATION of every Jamaican since 1879; which currently operates a head office and NINE regional offices; whose modernisation efforts since 1996 have resulted in widespread approval of its improved, results-oriented service delivery and earned the 2007 Human Resource Management Association of Jamaica award for innovations and unique approaches in problem solving, is now inadequate to oversee NIDS and must be REPLACED by a new agency (NIRA) expected to provide "more enhanced services".

 

RGD'S APPLICATION TRACKING SYSTEM

 

Like what, exactly? On April 1, 2003, the RGD implemented its Application Tracking System used internally to facilitate easy tracking of customers' applications from submission to delivery. Wireless connectivity enables customer service representatives access anywhere on RGD's grounds. RGD also launched its online query system for customers to ascertain the status of their application via www.rgd.gov.jm. Also, an online payment option was introduced on July 1, 2006. On May 7, 2001, to better secure its operations, RGD began printing on security paper (source: RGD website).

What's missing that can't be easily incorporated into RGD's existing online systems? WHY DO WE NEED A "NEW AGENCY?" How does this further International Monetary Fund-mandated public-sector reform? Will this "new agency" be easier to "hack", resulting in the USA gaining untrammelled access to our private information? Is this why we must suddenly force Jamaicans, according to the JIS release, "... to give their full name, date of birth, and biometric information, which includes fingerprints, facial image, and a manual signature", simply for local identification purposes? Really? Seriously?

The TRN was sold on the same marketing platform. This was the alleged purpose of birth certificates. Passports/driver's licences have always been used locally as satisfactory proof of holders' identification. I've been warning for months, despite howls of protest from tribal Jamaica Labour Party supporters, that there could be far more sinister and wide-ranging objectives behind this NIDS concept. On November 26, 2017, ('Bigger spies than even the US'), I wrote:

"I'm not against the concept of a NIN ... . I only hope Government delivers on Jacqueline Lynch-Stewart's assurance that '... NIDS will ... be a one-ID system in Jamaica that instead of carrying around multiple IDs, each of us will have one single ID that'll allow us to do business with Government" and scraps TRN voters' ID and NIS numbers .

"Otherwise, why do we need NIDS?Why is Government insisting NIDS be mandatory? It's only a method of identification? Isn't it? ... Or is there more to the NIDS plot? Like the need for closer and more intrusive surveillance? By whom?"

I relied on PM's forgotten address to an anti-Money Laundering/Counter-Financing of Terrorism (AML/CFT) Conference at The Jamaica Pegasus hotel (October 2016) where The Observer reported that he "noted ... that NIDS will serve to eliminate procedural steps and make compliance with AML/CFT regulations in the financial sector easier ..." and concluded, based also on a detailed comparison of USA's Social Security system:

"This isn't a Jamaican initiative. It's driven by our USA colonisers - the same ones who want to make lawyers, police, detectives against their own clients; want to make opening bank accounts for simple Jamaicans more complex than solving a Rubik's Cube; DARE NOT ask of US citizens anything similar."

 

THE TRUTH IS OUT

 

Happy New Year! The truth is out. On January 8, the following tweet appeared on the PM's official Twitter account:

"Andrew HolnessVerified account @AndrewHolnessJM

The National Identification System (NIDS) will help to minimise the chances of criminals assuming multiple identities, thereby lessening the likelihood of them committing illegal acts such as money laundering, tax evasion, and credit card fraud. #NIDSFACTS"

There it is. Don't let anyone fool you. This isn't an initiative for the sole purpose of producing "a central national database with the accompanying systems to support secure, reliable identity verification and authentication..." This is also (perhaps even essentially) a project to assist USA to root out modern crimes peculiarly created by, and principally affecting, the USA's dysfunctional society. This may be indirectly connected to accessing local public-sector or banking services but only insofar as it permits Big Bully of the North to spy on Jamaicans. If BBN can so unashamedly instruct us how to vote at the UN, why'd anybody believe Government isn't once again kowtowing to BBN's insular demands in this NIDS fiasco?

 

CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHTS

 

It's worse. Assuming we had the required administrative or investigative capacity, this is how to force Jamaican citizens to help police investigate those Jamaicans suspected of "tax evasion and credit card fraud".

Jeez, Louise! Whatever happened to constitutional rights against self-incrimination; to due process; privacy; a passport? Is the modern constitutional thinking to guarantee due process ONLY to formally accused citizens but to allow Government to subvert this fundamental right by forcing citizens to divulge information that could lead to their own prosecution and conviction?

Why am I being such a wet blanket? Is there NOTHING Government tries to do for Jamaica about which crochety old GR won't complain? Read carefully the following January 4 report (edited for word count only) from BuzzFeed News (a leading independent digital media company headquartered in New York) written by Pranav Dixit (pronounced, I kid you not, "Dicks*it"):

"In 2010, India started scanning personal details like names, addresses, dates of birth, mobile numbers, and more, along with all 10 fingerprints and iris scans of its 1.3 billion citizens, into a centralised government database called Aadhaar to create a voluntary identity system. On Wednesday, this database was reportedly breached.

"The Tribune, a local Indian newspaper, published a report claiming its reporters paid Rs. 500 (approximately US$8) to a person (Anil Kumar) who they contacted through WhatsApp. Kumar was able to create a user name and password that gave them access to demographic information of nearly 1.2 billion Indians currently enrolled in Aadhaar, simply by entering a person's unique 12-digit number. Regional officers working with the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), the government agency responsible for Aadhaar, told the Tribune the access was "illegal," and a "major national security breach".

A second report, published on Thursday by the Quint, an Indian news website, revealed that anyone can create an administrator account that lets them access the Aadhaar database as long as they're invited by an existing administrator.

Enrolling for an Aadhaar number isn't mandatory, but for months, India's government has been coercing citizens to sign up for the programme by linking access to essential services like food subsidies, bank accounts, cell phone numbers, and health insurance ... to Aadhaar. Critics have slammed the programme for its ability to violate the privacy of Indians and ... to turn India into a surveillance state, but that hasn't stopped both Indian companies and Silicon Valley giants like Uber, Airbnb, Microsoft, and Amazon from figuring out ways to integrate it with their products and services in India.

Hours after the Tribune's report was published, India's Narendra Modi-led Bharatiya Janata Party dismissed it as 'fake news'."

But, of course, it wasn't "fake news". It turns out the Tribune and Janata weren't arguing about the facts but the definition of "breach". Is illegal access "breach" or "crime"? While that semantic argument rages, has anybody noticed that the Indian system was declared "voluntary" but manipulated into becoming compulsory?

Plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose.

Peace and love.

- Gordon Robinson is an attorney-at-law. Email

feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.