NEW NIDS VOLUNTARY - Identity law controversy a lesson to all, says PM
A new National Identification and Registration Act, 2020 (NIDS), was tabled in Parliament on Tuesday with significant departures from the previous controversial law that was struck down by the Supreme Court on April 20, 2019, as unconstitutional.
The bill has been referred to a joint select committee of Parliament for deliberations. The previous law that was ruled unconstitutional by the courts was not reviewed by a joint select committee despite requests from civil society and the parliamentary Opposition.
The proposed new statute makes provisions for voluntary enrolment with the National Registration Authority but allows the individual to cancel the registration.
Under the new bill, the Authority will require biometric information such as facial image, fingerprints, and manual signature, in the case of an individual who is 18 years or older, to enrol a person in NIDS.
The bill also provides for a unique national identification number to be assigned to each person who enrols with the Authority. A national identification card will also be issued to enrolled persons.
Introducing the bill in Parliament on Tuesday, Prime Minister Andrew Holness said the proposed law makes provisions for a secure national identification system for the country that has the potential to transform the efficacy and transparency of interactions between the State and citizens.
“The bill will serve as the legal basis for the establishment of a robust, efficient and effective national identification system underpinned by a legal and regulatory framework that supports safe, secure, and reliable verification of identity information for citizens of Jamaica and persons ordinarily resident in Jamaica,” said Holness.
He said the bill will also strengthen identity security and reduce identity fraud.
Holness said that the Government had taken steps to revise the national identification and registration policy in compliance with the court ruling.
He added that only biographic and biometric data that are “absolutely necessary to ensure the efficacy of the process will be taken”.
According to the prime minister, identity information is the property of the individual and his or her consent is required for it to be collected, stored and used by anyone.
Reflecting on the previous law that was declared unconstitutional, Holness said the ruling “deepened” the understanding of many.
“I benefited from it and it made us think deeper in crafting a policy that would be in keeping with the parameters of our Constitution and how we see ourselves as a democracy, and I believe we have come up with a policy that will achieve the objective.”
In his remarks, Opposition Leader Mark Golding said the history of the first proposed NIDS legislation was worth looking into because “it was a lesson in how not to proceed with making new and innovative laws”.
“I am glad on this occasion that they have learnt the foolhardiness of the approach that was taken before by referring it to a joint select committee on this occasion.”
Golding said the Opposition will participate in deliberations at the joint select committee but said he hoped the new bill was compliant with what the courts ruled were the rights of Jamaicans under the Constitution.
However, the prime minister said that the Government did not proceed without dialogue with the Opposition in relation to the first NIDS bill.
“It was approved in the Lower House. When it reached the Senate, there were significant amendments which were raised,” Holness said.