Tue | Nov 13, 2018

Gordon Robinson | The great conspiracy

Published:Sunday | April 15, 2018 | 12:00 AM

Most of us politically non-aligned outcasts are convinced that National Identification System (NIDS) isn't locally conceived but imposed on Jamaica by Big Bully from the North (BBN).

I believe it's intended to be used to locate and search identities allegedly in order to track threats to BBN's domestic interests, especially money laundering. If this was the only likely result of this offensive, unconstitutional invasion of Jamaicans' privacy, I'd see and blind. But, is it?

Does Jamaica's public sector have the expertise to protect NIDS's invasive biometric data and use it for advertised purposes only? Will Jamaica be allowed to control NIDS-related operations, or will we get 'assistance' from BBN 'advisers'? Jamaican governments have a history of proudly embracing new legislation as achievement when, in reality, depending on its constitutionality, it isn't even the beginning of the beginning of accomplishment. True beginning would be intelligent enforcement, which isn't possible without specialised training in modern technology, sensitivity, duty, discretion and an awareness of/respect for constitutional law.

 

IMPERFECT SYSTEMS

 

Will our private information be safe regardless of the paper provisions of the Data Protection Act? For starters, facial recognition has been proven to be "an imperfect biometric", according to Georgetown University researcher Clare Garvie, whose 2016 study on facial-recognition software (The Perpetual Lineup), was published by Georgetown Law's Center on Privacy and Technology. Garvie reports: "There's no consensus in the scientific community that it provides a positive identification of somebody."

The Guardian (international edition; December 4, 2017) carried a column by Ali Breland, including the following narrative (edited for word count only):

"... [I]n 2015, two narcotics detectives just finished an undercover drug deal in Brentwood, a predominately black neighbourhood in Jacksonville, Florida, among the poorest in the country, when a man unexpectedly approached them. 'You good?' he asked.

One detective responded that he wanted $50 worth of 'hard' (slang for crack cocaine). The man disappeared into a nearby apartment and came back out ... swapping the drugs for money.

'You see me around, my name is Midnight,' the dealer said as he left.

"Before Midnight departed, one of the detectives took photos of him using his phone held to his ear as if taking a call.

"Two weeks later, police wanted to make the arrest. The only information they had about the dealer were the smartphone pictures, the address of the exchange, and the nickname 'Midnight'. Stumped, the sheriff's office turned to a new tool to help them track down the dealer: facial-recognition software.

"The technology helped them identify a suspect named Willie Lynch. Lynch, described by close observers of the case as a 'highly intelligent, highly motivated individual' despite only having graduated high school, was eventually convicted and sentenced to eight years in prison. He's appealing.

"Whether or not Willie Lynch is 'Midnight' remains to be seen. But many experts see the facial-recognition technology used against him as flawed, especially against black individuals. Moreover, the way the sheriff's office used the technology (as basis for identifying and arresting Lynch [and] not as one component of a case supported by firmer evidence) makes his conviction even more questionable.

"During his court case, the sheriff's office initially didn't disclose they'd used facial-recognition software. Instead, they claimed they used a mugshot database to identify Lynch based on the single photo detectives had taken."

Could this NIDS process herald a new bogey-man story for parents to tell children: "Watch out. Facial recognition's gonna get you!"?

In what should be a chilling caution for Jamaican legislators, Ali Breland quotes House oversight committee ranking member Elijah Cummings in a congressional hearing on law enforcement's use of facial-recognition software (March 2017): "If you're black, you're more likely to be subjected to this technology, and the technology is more likely to be wrong." That's worse than McNuggets and fries! Can we trust Jamaican authorities with our private biometric information? Are we willing to take the chance of it being used to send us to jail, guilt or innocence be damned?

 

CARELESS WITH PRIVACY

 

Then there's the danger of deliberate abuse. Today's world is full of opportunities for private-sector companies, however highly motivated to protect customers' data or however secure their websites are touted as being, to be careless with people's privacy. Passwords are routinely hacked and banking information obtained as easy as candy from Donald Trump. Invasion of privacy is always a click away. Some local employers are already insisting on biometric information from employees with a blanket authority to share as the employer sees fit. Really? Seriously?

Readers already know about the recent discovery of Facebook's abuse of users' private data and that the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has launched a formal investigation. FTC's Consumer Protection Bureau issued the following statement:

"FTC is firmly and fully committed to using its tools to protect [consumers'] privacy. Foremost among these tools is enforcement action against companies that fail to honor (sic) their privacy promises ... or engage in unfair acts that cause substantial injury to consumers in violation of the FTC Act ... . Accordingly, FTC takes very seriously recent press reports raising substantial concerns about [Facebook's] privacy practices. FTC is confirming it has an open non-public investigation into these practices."

Where's Jamaica's equivalent oversight agency? Who'll protect our biometric information from big bad wolves? The 'new' NIRA? Don't make me barf! Remember, USA doesn't require intrusive biometric information to issue national identification cards (Social Security) but seems to be ordering us to require this from Jamaicans despite our constitutional right to privacy.

We love copying British Parliament, so it's interesting to see how Westminster is handling Facebook's abuse of Britons' privacy. The House of Commons' Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee wrote to Mark Zuckerberg on March 20 accusing Facebook officials of "consistently understating" the risk of user data being taken from its website by companies without the user's consent and of "misleading the committee".

The committee requested Zuckerberg "appear before us to give oral evidence" because, according to the letter, "It's now time to hear from a senior Facebook executive with sufficient authority to give an accurate account of this catastrophic failure of process."

A leaked 2016 internal memo from Facebook's Vice-President Andrew 'Boz' Bosworth exposes USA philosophy regarding data protection:

"Maybe it costs a life by exposing someone to bullies. Maybe someone dies in a terrorist attack coordinated on our tools ... . It's literally just what we do. We connect people. Period. That's why all the work we do in growth is justified."

Lest we forget, BBN recently abandoned diplomacy, nuance or tact and engaged in transparent attempts to manipulate vulnerable nations to its will at the United Nations. Furthermore, recent Gleaner reports quote the US State Department's disappointment at how Jamaica currently implements BBN's instructions on how to wage war against money laundering:

"To date, the regulatory entities have not used their enforcement authority to sanction reporting entities for identified shortcomings in adherence to [anti-money-laundering] regulations."

Apparently miffed that Jamaica's constitutionally created director of public prosecutions (DPP); law-enforcement personnel, or both aren't conducting plea-bargaining negotiations to BBN's satisfaction, the State Department (according to The Gleaner) "urged Government to make a concerted effort to identify money laundering-related activities, prosecute political and public corruption, and ensure that financial institutions and designated non-financial businesses and professions are fully compliant with the law".

Really? Seriously? Just what the rungus kungus mi nungus is going on? Are we at the stage of obsequiousness where BBN has the unmitigated gall to tell our police and DPP how to do their work without even an accompanying temptation to hide imperial intent? What next? Will BBN tell our judges only "actions" that bring money-laundering "results" can keep them appointed?

Look here:

"Jamaica should also take steps to build the capacity of its law enforcement, prosecutors, and courts in order to successfully prosecute financial-crime cases. It should review and modify its case-processing procedures to enhance its ability to prosecute financial crimes efficiently and effectively."

A weh di clara gungus natty? A so dem brazen? If NIDS is just another BBN strategy to counter money laundering, you can bet dollars to donuts that BBN will be monitoring and controlling NIDS implementation closely and with prejudice, if it deems necessary. Will Government stop its awkward impression of wimp, lackey and yes-man combined and tailor Jamaica's domestic policy to Jamaicans' needs? When?

Why's Jamaica accepting foreign loans to implement draconian anti-privacy policies impossible in the lenders' own backyard? Why is Jamaica behaving as BBN's surrogate, subjecting our citizens to BBN's intrusiveness for BBN's benefit? I endorse the PM's call for Jamaica's transformation into a digital society. The need for this is self-evident. But, as the saying goes, talk is cheap. What we need are "actions" that bring "results", causing less harm than good.

THAT will determine JLP's reassumption of Government in 2021.

Peace and love.

- Gordon Robinson is an attorney-at-law. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.