Mon | Oct 15, 2018

Letter of the Day | National ID bill unjust, totalitarian

Published:Friday | November 10, 2017 | 12:00 AM


The Jamaica Coalition for a Healthy Society (JCHS) expresses its grave concerns about the undue haste with which the Government is proceeding with the passage of the National Identification and Registration Bill (NIDS). At the last sitting of the Senate on Friday, November 3, 2017, the leader of government business, Senator Kamina Johnson Smith, effectively declared that the bill must be passed at the Senate's next sitting scheduled for today.

Certain aspects of the proposed NIDS system appear to be intrusive, invasive and irrelevant:

n Intrusive because it seeks to collect unnecessary information of citizens "social, economic and general activities," according to the bill's preamble,

n Invasive because it demands personal information that are beyond the norm, for example, fingerprint and possibly retina scan, vein pattern of the hand, footprint, toeprint, palm prints, and blood type.

n Irrelevant because the disclosure of the demanded biometric and demographic information (for example, employment, religion, profession, occupation) is unnecessary to facilitate business and easy access to services. The relevance must be justified by the Government before the passage of the legislation.

Further, a national database collecting all the personal identification and demographic details of all citizens will be, by its very nature, a prime target for security breaches and abuse, even with the best of protective measures.

Unlike existing forms of identification (e.g. driver's licence, voter ID, passport), which provide an incentive for ownership, NIDS is being imposed under threat of punishment. Anyone who does not enrol after three years of the NIDS implementation can be fined the sum of $100,000, or be subjected to other forms of punishment such as community work.

The Government has claimed that the NIDS is necessary to fulfil a 'human right to identity'. To that end, Article 6 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) was cited as a justification for NIDS. Article 6, in fact, states that "everyone has the right to recognition everywhere as a person before the law". This indicates that identity is inalienable (you are born with it) and is not dependent on any document or registration system.

The NIDS creates an opposite effect. If persons do not enrol, the NIDS will unjustifiably hinder citizens from exercising existing rights and freedoms (with certain exceptions) upon pain of punishment. It is, therefore, arguable that the NIDS will enable the State to contravene Article 6 of UDHR.

The public has not been informed that Western democracies such as England and Australia have rejected similar systems.

NIDS, in its current form, paves the way for State overreach and totalitarianism.

The debate on NIDS in the Senate must be suspended until satisfactory nationwide public consultations have been held.