The government of Jamaica is moving ahead with plans to implement the National Identification System (NIDS) law by December, even as it receives massive pushback from Jamaican citizens.
Speaking in parliament yesterday, Prime Minister Andrew Holness said that, “We would like before the end of the year, this year, that we should be seeking to pass the bill into law.”
According to the office of the Prime Minister’s website, the purpose of NIDS is to “establish a reliable database of Jamaican citizens and other individuals ordinarily resident in Jamaica, with a unique National Identification Number (NIN) as the primary key identifier of a person in the system.”
The legislation was first introduced in 2018, but in 2019, the island’s Constitutional Court had struck down Act, ruling that certain aspects of the legislation were unconstitutional. The previous act had been deemed mandatory for all Jamaicans and other offending sections of the law related primarily to privacy issues such as the collection of biometric data. Jamaicans would have been required to give their fingerprints, state their blood type and even subject themselves to iris scans if the law had taken effect.
But on Tuesday, Prime Minister Holness said a significant landmark was achieved in April this year when Cabinet approved the new Voluntary National Identification and Registration Policy. According to him, substantial changes are reflected in the new policy. These include the voluntary enrolment under the NIDS and the use of minimum biometrics which are fingerprint, facial image and manual signature.
Despite the changes in the act, many Jamaicans are still not for the new ID system. Since 2018, many Jamaicans have criticized the government for seeking to pass the law, with biblical fears and invasion of privacy concerns driving the criticism.
On social media, many Jamaicans at home and abroad have voiced their concerns over the law. Popular concerns are that the NIDS is the mark of the beast, a way to control Jamaicans and an avenue for the government to sell the data of its population.
“your personal data being captured on such intrusive levels is an invasion of privacy and portends critical breaches of our personal and collective liberty. There is a reason ideas like #NIDS are rejected by wealthy, democratic nations,” said one person via Twitter.
While another Jamaican on Instagram said, “it was already written in the bible about the mark of the beast and NIDS seems to be no different.”
But on the flip side, other Jamaicans have said that it is hypocritical of Jamaicans to be overly critical of the new law. They say the same information that the NIDS requires is similar to that collected by the United States government for visas and green cards. The only difference is that many Jamaicans are more willing to provide that information to international states.
“Alot of you give way more info for a visa ,what u think biometric is?,” one Jamaican resident asked on Instagram. Another citizen made the same point, saying, “many voluntarily give all their information for a US visa on a daily basis….but object to having data available for use in Jamaica.”
One Jamaican, seemingly from the Diaspora, also urged Jamaicans to consider the NIDS, as it will be useful to help the country fight crime.
“Many of us here in the DIASPORA should not have an opposition to this process. In the 3 Big countries Jamaicans occupy (America, Canada, England), the governments have information on all its citizen, and you have NO choice in the matter. How do you expect the country to progress? Stop being IGNORANT. NIDS is a start to fight the crimes plaguing the island,” the person said.
The Holness administration had argued that the NIDS would, among other things, improve the country’s national security while making it easier for persons to conduct business.
But making NIDS voluntary, many Jamaicans will choose to opt out of registration unless there is a proper public education campaign.