We are, after all, a nation of laws. And we live in a culture where carrying a form of identification is as normal as keeping your car keys in your pocket. — Mike Gallagher
The National identification System, more popularly known as NIDS, for many does not seem normal. As a result, great debates are raging on the pros and cons of NIDS. What’s driving the position-takers? How should the normal citizen, you and me, position ourselves on the matter?
Let’s settle a few issues about NIDS for the sake of clarity. Firstly, it is a system that will be used to digitally register all Jamaicans. The Government’s plan is to establish a database of Jamaican citizens by collecting biographic, biometric and demographic information. According to the, Jamaica Information Service website,NIDS is: “A unique, reliable and secure way of verifying an individual’s identity.”
NIDS and its children National Identification Number (NIN) and National Identification Card (NIC) will, through their interrelated data gathering, provide the most complete identity assurance and verification information we have ever seen. The NIC is “a unique card issued to a registered individual and verified individual”, while the NIN is your personal hard-to-clone unique number.
Every Jamaican will be issued a NIN and a NIC. According to the official NIDS website, an NIC will be required for all persons registered under NIDS. The NIC includes your NIN, photo, address, manual signature, and match on cards applications to support authentication online.”
NIDS the Uniter
Government sources reveal that, despite having a birth certificate-, passport- and TRN-issuing system at present, Jamaica does not have a central national database. As a result, different systems use different numbers for different purposes, and consequently it makes it difficult to find out when a person is assuming more than one identity (which is a crime).
Currently, it is also difficult for the different agencies to share information with each other. NIDS is the proposed solution that will ensure that all of the information is in one secure place and readily available to all agencies.
This argument sounds reasonable, the question is: Can that be achieved without the objectionable aspects of NIDS? The answer is ‘yes’, if the objective is clear identity, and no if there is another agenda by others, whether local or foreign.
NIDS, the Punisher
A Gleaner article dated September 8, 2017, titled ‘No ID, No Access’ ruffled a few feathers.
Under the Government’s proposed NIDS, Jamaicans without NIC will not be able to do business with Government agencies and departments when it is rolled out in 2019. Additionally, persons without the national ID [NIN] might also face serious challenges as they seek to do business with the private sector.
In addition, it is possible that, in both cases, the police could be called to arrest you to face criminal charges in the courts. Yup, you heard that right! You could face arrest for not having a NIC or NIN!
NIDS is now divided along political lines. Why is this? What is our parliamentary Opposition seeing that Prime Minister Andrew Holness and his Government are not? Can their differences be resolved?
The issue ought not to have become a political football unless there was ulterior motives. The facts is NIDS is not new. It was in the making for at least the last 20 years spanning both parties in Government preparing it.
The now Opposition were the primary drivers of the project. Both parties agreed to it. It is hypocritical for the current Opposition to have given the impression they new nothing or little about it when they prepared it.
The present Government, in the last two years, only oversaw the finalisation for presentation to Parliament. The big question is: Why did it become a political football when both sides were at one on the matter?
The grapevine has it that there are two reasons behind it, but it really is one. The voice of the church in objection to fundamental violations of principles stirred public negative sentiment. The Opposition jumped on the bandwagon as it would accomplish the real reason behind the sudden political divide on the matter.
Money was about to run from the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) for the implementation of the NIDS. The story was that “the Government needed it to make the budget look good and some other tings”, but the Opposition said, “no, mek wi block it so dem caan get di money fi look good.” Mi hear seh a so so bad mind politics as usual.
Until now I doubted whether the grapevine was true, but a report in the Jamaica Observer of Thursday, April 25 seems to suggest that ‘if a no so, a nearly so’. The report indicated that since the constitutional court’s ruling Opposition Leader Dr Peter Phillips let the puss out of the bag. He has called on the Government to account for the millions of US dollars borrowed from IDB for the NIDS implementation.
The spiritual perspective is that Father God used it to answer the prayer of the church. He made the Opositioin join the church to defeat the NIDS Bill to protect the people and force a redrafting for justice sake. Prayer work again.
what is the problem?
It’s been over two weeks now that Chief Justice Bryan Sykes, Justice Lisa Palmer-Hamilton and Justice David Batts agreed with the Opposition and declared NIDS unworthy in its current form. What’s the real problem and what next? Are our justices simply dunce as Dorlan H Francis rudely but nicely suggested in his article of Sunday, April 21, 2019, titled ‘NIDS ruling a victory for disorder?’
I will leave it to Chief Justice Sykes to defend his depth and rigour and the reputation of his High Court. However, let’s take a deeper and more rigorous look at the issue:
NIDS is well-intentioned by some, but for others the economic and control agendas override individual rights and freedoms. NIDS as presented was more than an identification system. It seemed also to be a system to monitor and control. It is the secondary uses that are dangerous.
It’s mandatory approach would mean that citizens who were not part of the system would not be able to access goods and services of Government. It would aid State control of individual lives and with access to it by the private sector it could be difficult to buy and sell. Any such system is oppressive and dangerous.
The job of the State is not the control of citizens. Our forefathers fought hard and long to get us the rights and freedoms we enjoy today. The job of the State is to create an environment that facilitates the growth and development of its people with individual liberties in an atmosphere of peace, justice, safety and security.
Government is never to control people’s choices, movement, speech, peaceful assembly, and the ability to buy and sell to survive. These are inalienable rights that should neither be taken from an individual or given away by an individual.
The creator and biblical position is that “freedom of choice” must never be removed. God does not force His way on mankind. Only oppressors do that — Satan and all evil regimes, be it religious, political right or left, fascist, dictatorships, etc.
The mandatory and invasive nature of NIDS with little protection of privacy are the areas of problems.
There should be no question as to whether the legislation should be redrafted. It must be redrafted to ensure that there are no violations of the charter of rights. Freedom cost us dearly and must be preserved and treasured above all.
In every nation a NIN is important for identity and security. All citizens should give it full support. This is a straightforward process that can easily be done in a way that the common information can be shared by all agencies. We need a unified ID system that works, that increases our safety, and strengthens our national security. But this must not be at the expense of our liberties and freedoms.
Admittedly this is a difficult line to walk by any government. This, then, is all the more reason for both sides and all branches of government to unite and carefully attend to a redraft. I really believe:
We, Jah people, can make it work;
Come together and make it work, yeah!
We can make it work. — Bob Marley
Copyright © 2019 by Rev Dr. Al Miller.