Groups urge extension of NIDS Bill deadline

With fresh legislation to establish the National Identification System (NIDS) expected to be tabled in Parliament, debated, and passed by the end of this year, five advocacy groups have made a concerted call for that deadline to be extended.

Jamaicans For Justice, Slashroots Foundation, Caribbean Vulnerable Communities Coalition, Jamaica Accountability Metre Portal, and Jamaica Youth Advocacy Network, in a recently issued joint statement, said while resumption of the public discourse on the legislation was welcomed, there are a number of factors that are cause for concern.

The groups said, while Jamaicans are all too familiar with the inefficiencies and frustrations that stem from ineffective identification options, national consensus on how the problem is fixed will be critical to achieving a future in which all Jamaicans realise the benefits of access to reliable identification in a way that respects their fundamental rights and inherent freedoms.

According to the groups, “at present, the end-of-year timeline for the tabling, public consultation, revision, debate, and passage of the NIDS Bill will be insufficient”.

“This law is likely to affect Jamaicans in profound ways. They therefore must have a real opportunity to understand the concepts in the Bill for themselves and sufficient time to prepare any submissions on areas of concern. Adequate time should also be given to allow Parliament’s honest engagement with the varying perspectives,” they argued.

“Accordingly, we urge the Government to revise the proposed approach, which provides only roughly two months to consider, debate, revise, and pass this Bill,” they said.

The groups also argued that the NIDS Bill should not be passed prior to the operationalisation of the Data Protection Act which, although passed in April this year, has not been brought into force as yet.

“Bringing the law into force would require, among other things, the appointment of the information commissioner — the nation’s chief data protection entity — and publication of the Act’s regulations, which will outline how entities that hold data, such as NIDS, should operate in practice. These are critical building blocks of the ‘digital society’ that the Government is aiming to transition the country towards. However, with the current end-of-year timeline announced by the Government, it is possible that the NIDS Bill could be passed before there are any systems in place for protection of personal data and privacy under the Data Protection Act,” the groups said.

They further pointed out that because NIDS will collect unprecedented amounts of personal data, it is in the country’s best interest to have data protection infrastructure in place prior to parliamentary consideration of NIDS.

“This is critical to ensuring that the systems envisioned by the Data Protection Act are truly — not just in theory — functional and capable of safeguarding people’s information and that the legislation is itself sufficient. Jamaica has not yet seen any element of the Data Protection Act in practice. We strongly urge the Government not to pass a NIDS Bill that would sanction the most far-reaching system for collection of people’s private information in Jamaica’s history without this,” they added.

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