OCTOBER 26, 2020 – On September 29, 2020, the Government of Jamaica indicated that fresh legislation to establish the National Identification System (NIDS) would be tabled, debated, and passed by the end of the year. We welcome the restarting of public discourse on NIDS and the government’s commitment to send the Bill, when tabled, to a Joint Select Committee of Parliament which will take submissions from members of the public.
As Jamaicans, we are all too familiar with the inefficiencies and frustration that stem from ineffective identification options—multiple visits to government offices; numerous calls to find a Justice of the Peace to certify documents; or, in the worst cases, inability to access services when we need them.
As a country, we can do better. But national consensus on HOW we address this problem will be critical to achieving a future in which all persons realise the benefits of access to reliable identification in a way that respects their fundamental rights and inherent freedoms. To achieve this goal, we must bear the following in mind.
1. Flaws in national identification systems can lead to unintentional, but systematic exclusion. When they are rushed or not designed inclusively, oversights in the implementation of national identification systems can have far-reaching implications, including human rights violations. Kenya and India provide relevant lessons. Earlier this year, the Kenyan High Court delayed the implementation of their ID system after it found that it was systematically excluding minority groups. In India, recent studies of their ID system have found that it has failed to improve the efficiency of the state welfare programmes (similar to our PATH programme), and has actually made them more difficult to access for the communities who rely on them the most. Engaging with diverse stakeholders early in the process can assist in identifying potential pitfalls that would be more costly to address later in implementation.
2. Great care is needed in the consultation process. If adopted, NIDS will be the most far-reaching system for collection of sensitive, personal information by the government in Jamaica’s history. While the need and opportunity is clear, the risks are also significant. Future generations of Jamaicans will have to live with the systems we design today. To do this well, consultation with the public should be genuine, with a sincere willingness to make changes where necessary.
3. Learning from the first NIDS process is essential. The first attempt to establish NIDS lacked consensus. It was passed amidst intense parliamentary divide, had no formal channel for public input, and was ultimately struck down by Jamaica’s Supreme Court because it violated people’s rights. In this second attempt, the government must commit to doing things differently in pursuit of national consensus.
Accordingly, we offer these in