Tue | Oct 16, 2018

Letter of the Day | Broaden the scope of current ID system

Published:Thursday | November 16, 2017 | 12:08 AM


I've lived and worked in four countries, including the USA and Canada, however, I've never had a national identification system of the sort now proposed by the Government of Jamaica.

In the USA, they have the Social Security Number, and in Canada, Social Insurance Number. These numbers are the key drivers of individual identity; they are issued without photo, and are linked to other IDs such as passport and driver's licence. In Canada, some provinces issue an optional provincial ID for those who need an ID and don't have a driver's licence; however, no personal detail such as race and employment is required. In Jamaica, we have National Insurance Scheme (NIS), Tax Registration Number (TRN), and other forms of ID. I believe the current system could have been enhanced. For instance, why not broaden the scope of TRN, change the name, if necessary, and link it to passports and NIS, as we do with the driver's licence? The ID database is already there.

What is being proposed by the government, at a cost of $J8 billion dollars (US$68 million), a loan from the Inter-American Development Bank, which has to be repaid, is absurd, considering that the country cannot even afford to provide adequate health, education and social services. I share the privacy concerns raised as well. If the Government wants demographic data, they should do what other countries do and invest in a comprehensive and accurate national census! They say that demographic data (such as race, religion, employment) collected through the National Identification System (NIDS) will be optional; if so, what benefit is optional data if it isn't complete?

Will they use partial data to predict trends? As for the simplistic argument that visitors to the USA are fingerprinted, etc. so what? It is the prerogative of the host country to screen visitors for security reasons, and those who choose to visit know that. The US does not fingerprint all citizens.

I've also heard the prime minister say that 2.6 billion people in the world don't have any form of national identity. Well, considering the world's population is 7.6 billion, this is still not a convincing argument to justify NIDS in its present format. Although I do believe a form of national ID system in a country will help to manage the population better, we should not go overboard abusing people's right to privacy, without proper debate and consultation. I am also concerned about the effects on the diaspora. Imagine fines of up to $100,000 could be placed on individuals who do not get the NIDS after the initial period of implementation.

We should be moving forward, not backwards. If it took successive governments 40 years to consider this NIDS Bill, and a reported 268 amendments made to this bill in its current form, this says a lot too many issues and a waste of time and resources. Arrogance does not auger well for any government, as history has repeatedly shown.

P. Chin