Is the new national ID system Jamaica intends to roll out a good thing?

The new National ID System the Government of Jamaica plans to implement is being roundly criticised in many quarters.  We discuss and add our two cents…


After a several contentious sessions and amendments (168 to be exact!), the Jamaica House of Parliament passed National Identification and Registration Act 2017 last week, which when made effective, should usher in a new framework for national identification (ID) for citizens. Currently in Jamaica, there is no single, official national ID card: documents such as the voter registration card, driver licence, and passport, tend to be accepted when some form of picture ID is required. The proposed new National Identification System (NIDS) intends to change that.

Anticipated benefits

The NIDS Jamaica intends to implement would provide each citizen with a unique ID number, and would also store comprehensive personal information and biometric data, in order to provide a reliable way of verifying an individual’s identity. In principle, there a number of both to citizens and governments that can be realised by having a modern and secure NIDS. Potentially, such as system could, among other things:

  • minimise the ability of individuals to assume multiple identities
  • reduce the ease of identity theft
  • eliminate the need for multiple registrations and duplication of information when engaging across government
  • reduce illegal activities, such as money laundering and tax evasion.

If NIDS is such a great thing, why all the opposition?

Having highlighted some of the positives of a NIDS, and evidenced by the heated debate that occurred in the Jamaica Parliament, it should come as no surprise that the public at large are concerned about this new system. The crux of their discontent appears to be that such a mandatory system, requires individuals to provide extensive biometric data (facial image, palm print, toe print, foot print, iris or retina scan), which is invasive and breaches the basic human right to privacy.

Furthermore, due to the intrusiveness of the proposed system, people are bristling about the fact that registration would be compulsory, and point to countries, such as Australia, the United Kingdome and the United States, in which having a national ID card is not compulsory, and documents such as a birth certificate, a driver’s licence or passport, tend to suffice.

Another elephant in the room

Although there might be a variety of reasons why Jamaican are concerned about the new NIDS the government intends to introduce, and for which a pilot should commence by 2019, they all seem to boil down to a distrust of the Government. People are not confident that their personal information will remain private and confidential, and will not be abused, or used for oppressive or repressive purposes by the people who have promised to serve the nation.

However, an even more worrying concern, which might not be getting the visibility it deserves, but which ultimately underpins the success of any digital system that is established, is the accompanying security of that system. Over the past several months, Caribbean countries, including Jamaica, have experienced several breeches of government websites and networks, and theft of information. Further, there has been widespread criticisms that the region is still lagging behind in its cybersecurity efforts, which suggests countries are even more vulnerable than they should be.

Hence, although with the passage of the National Identification and Registration Act in the Jamaica Parliament now gives the ruling government the mandate to make it effective, at this time, it may not be prudent for it to plough through to make that law effective. Addressing public concern ought to be the priority. There should also be a conversation about the safeguards that must not only be established, but also maintained, in order to guarantee the safety of the information from those within, and outside, Jamaica.


Image credit:  Pixabay


1 Comment

  • The security of the data is a very valid point and concern.

    In the US ( and a few other countries that don’t have a national ID system ) they still collect biometrics at airports when we pass through those elaborate metal bars and cameras. So evasiveness alone, in regard to biometric personal information, would not be an overriding point of concern.

    It is the security of any such data collected, that should pose genuine concern.

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