Sat | Nov 17, 2018

NIDS dangerous weapon in Gov't's hands

Published:Tuesday | November 28, 2017 | 12:00 AM


Good intentions sometimes produce dreadful consequences, and any democratically elected government or leader can become dictatorial and pass and enforce unjust and repressive laws. Many dictators, including Adolf Hitler (who exterminated millions of Jews), were democratically elected.

Free and fair elections (a fundamental prerequisite of democracy) do not ensure democracy without the supporting democratic institutions and adherence by elected leaders and governments to the Constitution, rule of law, and consultative democratic principles.

People often feel a false sense of security with governments labelled democratic. But it's critical to note that democracy and dictatorship are flip sides of the same coin -government. Similarly to tossing a coin, by merely showing hands or a simple majority vote in the Westminster-style Parliament, a government can pass unjust laws and erode the rights of citizens.

It's true. Politicians do not always act in the best interests of the people they pledge to serve. Politicians and political parties are also driven by self-preservation and self-interests and naturally inclined to gain or maintain state power, whether by democratic or dictatorial means.

It is quite obvious that even with well-established democratic institutions, a vibrant Opposition is not the most reliable safeguard of the democratic process. Of critical importance are freedom of speech, independent media, and the will of the people to organise themselves and purposefully and persistently protest against any unjust laws until they are either amended or abolished.

Deep controversy has engulfed the impending National Identification System, which will require mandatory registration. Is this impending law unjust or just unnecessarily intrusive? Do citizens have a fundamental right to privacy?

Sensitive information on citizens, even in a democracy, is a powerful weapon which unless meticulously and scrupulously protected, is open to abuse and the erosion of any fundamental rights to privacy.

What is the significance of the fact that NIDS had an initial mandatory requirement to declare one's religion? Jamaicans immensely value religious freedom and its indisputable that any mandatory registration requiring a declaration of religion or denomination obviously opens opportunities for discrimination and religious persecution!

It is also quite instructive that key tools used by the former communist regimes to maintain power were indoctrination and control of information, suppression of press freedom, and a well-organised system of identification and documentation of the activities, 'fact files' on its citizens that the State could always use against them. Who knows what may happen with NIDS?