KINGSTON, August 10, 2019 - Four months after the Supreme Court ruled that the National Identification Act (NIDS) intended to enable the government to capture and store identity information for all Jamaicans, was a violation of the constitutional right to privacy, prime minister Andrew Holness has signalled his intention to reintroduce the NIDS through other methods. The Prime Minister says the faster the Jamaican society embraces the imminent move to a digital society, more advantages will be realised. Speanking at the the launch of the Electronic Business Forum at the Jamaica Pegasus Hotel on Wednesday, Holness hinted at how the government intended to work around the Supreme Court's decision that the mandatory requirement of NIDS for persons to submit biometric information is a violation of the right to privacy, which is guranteed by the Constitution. “The Fourth Industrial Revolution in which we are is all about how you manage information and data and leverage that innovation. The innovation with data now is how Governments can use it to better serve their populations. One of the things that we want to do is to give every citizen an identity, it is not about stealing your identity or exposing your Identity, but we need to know who you are. You need to be assured that when you present yourself that you are known, you are acknowledged, and you can get service,” said Prime Minister Holness. In that regard, the Prime Minister stated that the Government continues to do the background work necessary to have NIDS work effectively. He noted that the Government is putting in the infrastructure to facilitate a seamless exchange of information between Government agencies. “We are moving ahead with that to ensure that the technology is in place, the equipment is in place, the Government intranet is in place, and then we will be able to resolve in short order the form in which the National Identification System will take place. We have a form already; we just need to approve it and get it back on the Parliamentary agenda. Hopefully, it will be satisfactory to our court, but I am committed to ensuring that Jamaica leapfrogs the digital divide,” said Holness. Holness highlighted the deliberate steps the Government has been taking to integrate technology in its daily operations by employing interns though the Housing Opportunity Production Employment (HOPE) Programme.
According to the Prime Minister, the Government has developed a digitization core putting the interns on the frontline of the integration of technology. “They (the HOPE Interns) are the ones working with the paper to migrate the data embedded in paper documents into a portable digital format. They were working at the NHT scanning several thousands of documents, they were at the Island Traffic Authority scanning millions of documents, in fact, they have completed several years backlog of paper-based motor vehicle documentation,” Holness noted. He went on to say that the uploaded content can be used to populate databases, providing information which puts the Government in a better position to make decisions.
In April of this year, a panel comprising Chief Justice Bryan Sykes, Justice David Batts and Justice Lisa Palmer Hamilton ruled that the the mandatory requirement of NIDS for persons to submit biometric information is a violation of the right to privacy, which is guranteed by the Constitution.
The chief justice said it was the court's decision for the law to be struck down in its entirety because those aspects which did not infringe on the Constitutional rights of citizens were not enough to stand alone.
“Having declared some of the provisions in violation of the charter, we are of the view that what was left could not stand because...it was so bound up with the other provisions that there is no way it could survive by itself... and the other route was that what was left would still be in violation of the constitution... And so we are of the view that the National Identification and Registration Act is to be declared null and void and of no legal effect.”
The challenge to the Act was brought by PNP General Secretary Julian Robinson, who argued that certain provisions of the law infringe some of his Constitutional rights. Robinson contended that various sections of the act are unconstitutional, and operate as violations to the rights of the citizens of Jamaica.