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Stabroek News

EDITORIAL - National ID card and state security
published: Wednesday | January 30, 2008

Prime Minister Golding's plan for the registration of residents of Jamaica and the issuance of identification cards is an initiative with which few can quarrel.

For, in the circumstance of Jamaica, it is a quite sensible idea over which we have dithered for far too many years. In the process, we have lost time and wasted opportunities to improve our national security. The arguments of opponents of the project are well known and quite predictable, based broadly on libertarian ideals for the organisation of society. So, having one's personal information stored in a central location and potentially available to agents of the state smacks not only of the invasion of privacy but of totalitarian rule. Big Brother stalks the land.

But there are some realities faced by Jamaica which we have to confront. Not least of these has to be the recognition that in some respects, we live in an abnormal society that will require much to put things right.

Indeed, the statistics on crime and violence are well known. Reported homicides, for instance, might have dipped slightly last year, compared to 2006, yet, there were 1,574 murders.

Looked at another way, our murder rate was over 60 per 100,000 population, a ratio superceded only by South Africa. Over 70 per cent of the killings, as is the case each year, are committed by young men under 30, and a similar proportion is with the gun.

We 'clear-up' hardly over 50 per cent of the killings, which means that someone is seldom ever arrested, taken to court, or tried and convicted for the crime. So, people can kill with impunity, knowing that they have a far better-than-even chance of evading the law.

Part of the problem, of course, is the transient nature of those who commit this mayhem. They easily shift from place to place with no record of their movements or no identification to prove the specificity of their existence.

Mr Golding's National ID proposal, a significant advance on the Tax Registration Number required for doing business with the Government, will go substantially further towards fixing the broader problem.

For instance, a National ID can be linked to an individual's birth registration and social security number and could be a requirement for accessing certain services and securing employment.

Such a card should perhaps also contain an individual's biometrics, such as fingerprints or iris-recognition details. As much as Jamaicans might complain about the gathering of such information on them, these processes would not be unique to the island.

Indeed, Jamaicans who wish to travel to the United States legally, have to submit to fingerprint and iris scans. It is part of how America seeks to protect its national security. The British, too, are busy building up a DNA database of its nationals.

The bottom line is that we are not unique, unless it is in the severity of our problem.


The opinions on this page, except for the above, do not necessarily reflect the views of The Gleaner. To respond to a Gleaner editorial, email us: editor@gleanerjm.com or fax: 922-6223. Responses should be no longer than 400 words. Not all responses will be published.

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