What's your number? - Jamaica to get national identification system
Anastasia Cunningham, Senior Gleaner Writer
The government is planning on implementing a national identification system (NIDS), which will ensure that every man, woman, and child in Jamaica will have their own unique identification number that will give the Government a complete database of their biographical and biometric details.
The NIDS will be issued from birth and will be a multi-purpose identification card.
First proposed back in 1994 by the then Electoral Advisory Committee, the national identification and registration system will serve several purposes, including facilitating travel within CARICOM when completed.
The new NIDS will be used as a means to uniquely identify citizens, permanent residents, and temporary residents for the purpose of work, taxation, tracking, government benefits, health care, and other government-related functions.
It is believed that the benefits of the NIDS will be significant for Jamaica, both in the public and private sectors, including registration of births and deaths, criminal records, traffic ticketing, tax compliance, records management, road and drivers licensing, among other things.
As it will become the primary source for identity assurance, it is cited as a necessary tool in the recently approved strategic public-sector restructuring plan (December 2009) that will allow the Government to promote more effective and efficient governance, improved resource management, improved security, and service delivery to its citizens.
Prime Minister Bruce Golding had announced in 2009 that the system would be implemented under his administration, and experts were employed to work out the logistics.
The NIDS now falls under the portfolio of the Ministry of Health, which is working to have it ready to roll out within a few years.
According to the health ministry, the NIDS will provide a comprehensive and secure structure to capture and store personal identity information.
Countries around the world already have similar systems in place, such as the United States' social security number.
The Government is expecting that having this unique identifier will provide a secure basis for each citizen to access an array of benefits and services, including social, health care, and education.
They also believe it will enhance the organisation, management, and delivery of government services to the public, as well as facilitate the growth and development of commerce and economic activity through the provision of a platform of greater security and integrity.
However, such a system is not without its concerns as some feel this will be the 'big brother' at work that will give the Government full autonomy into the very intimate and private details of their lives.
"Not sure I like the idea," said bank clerk Sharon Pinnock. "It seems so invasive, as if I will have no privacy left. It's bad enough with the revelation about the MOUs that someone is listening in on our phone conversations, now this. It's like your life is an open book and you're fully naked for the Government to do as they will."
However, the ministry is advising that it is not as invasive as it sounds, but having this system was essential to tracking criminals and curtailing the problem of crime. In fact, they are convinced persons will feel more secure.
They have also promised to address all the concerns the public may have through public education and consultation.
"Jamaicans are one of the smartest set of people in the world," said Paul Wallace, who sells phone chargers in Kingston. "They can beat any system. If the Government thinks they can use this to keep track of criminals, they really don't know us Jamaicans."
Jamaica currently has a national voter's ID and a tax registration number.