Wed | Apr 14, 2021

Coalition presses for closure of NIDS exemption loophole

Published:Wednesday | April 7, 2021 | 12:25 AMEdmond Campbell/Senior Parliamentary Reporter

A coalition of 13 organisations on Tuesday urged the Government to introduce provisions in the National Identification and Registration Act, or the Data Protection Act (DPA), to remove a two-year period of exemption that would be applicable to the National Identification and Registration Authority (NIRA).

NIRA is the body established with responsibility for civil registration and national identification.

In a presentation led by Matthew McNaughton, principal of SlashRoots Foundation, and Rodje Malcolm, executive director of Jamaicans for Justice, the coalition said that the amendment would ensure that all DPA provisions were fully enforceable on the NIRA from the day it commences operation under the proposed law.

Commenting on the issue during Tuesday’s meeting of the joint select committee on the National Identification System (NIDS), McNaughton explained that the DPA contained a two-year transition period for which all data controllers in Jamaica could escape culpability for breaches of provisions or regulations in the law.

He cited Section 76 (1) of the DPA, which states that the “data controller shall take all necessary measures to ensure its full compliance with the provisions of this act, and, in particular, the data protection standards, on or before the expiration of a period of two years from the earliest day appointed under section 1(1)”.

Section 76 (2) says: “No proceedings under this act may be taken against a data controller in respect of any processing, of personal data, done in good faith during the period referred to in subsection (1).”

Against this background, McNaughton said that months into its operations, NIRA could discover that “one of the third-party data processes” that was used to digitise the biometric data had a security flaw in it that had potentially exposed its data.

In the context where the DPA had not been fully promulgated and applicable to the activities of the NIRA, McNaughton said that the Authority would be under no obligation to communicate that information to the public or the individuals whose data had been exposed.

He pointed to recent exposure of data under the Government’s JAMCOVID arrangement.

Committee Chairman Delroy Chuck questioned whether an amendment to the bill to indicate that the DPA applied to the NIRA from inception would solve the problem. The coalition said it would address some of the concerns.

Chuck assured that the DPA would have to be introduced before NIDS was brought into operation.

Providing more specific recommendations to an issue raised in previous submissions, the coalition suggested that the committee should significantly reduce the trove of mandatory data required before a person can be issued a national identification card under NIDS.

The coalition said that the only biographical information that should be required for enrolment to access legal identification should be full name, date of birth, sex and nationality (for non-Jamaicans). It further recommends that the only biometric information for enrolment should be facial image, manual signature and fingerprints.

McNaughton said that only information that was directly related to establishing legal identity should be mandatory for enrolment.

“It should be limited to the core information that the Government’s policy position states that is necessary for providing legal identification,” he added.

The group said it had no objection to NIRA collecting what it described as “optional information”, which would be provided voluntarily by the applicant.

In her submission last week, Public Defender Arlene Harrison Henry had also indicated that the 21 pieces of data requested for enrolment should be significantly reduced.

The coalition comprises Jamaicans for Justice, SlashRoots Foundation, National Integrity Action, The Combined Disabilities Association, The Jamaica Computer Society, AccessNow, Open Society Foundations – Justice Initiative, The Jamaica Youth Advocacy Network, The Caribbean Vulnerable Communities Coalition, The Jamaica Network of Seropositives, J-FLAG, Stand Up For Jamaica, and The Jamaica Accountability Meter Portal.

edmond.campbell@gleanerjm.com