Transwave Jamaica objects to new data privacy lawSunday, September 26, 2021
Rappler.com and c oda.com, in a weekly technology feature, have highlighted the objection made by Transwave — a non-government organisation (NGO) engaged in transgender advocacy — to the latest version of legislation to facilitate a digital national identification system in Jamaica.
The Government of Jamaica is designing and developing the National Identification System (NIDS), aiming to capture and store personal identity information for citizens and persons ordinarily resident in Jamaica.
On full roll out the NIDS project promises a new identification system which, it is hoped, will make it easier and cheaper for citizens and legal residents to prove identity, thus lessening the burden of opening bank accounts and accessing social services from government agencies, among other benefits.
NIDS is expected to reduce transactional costs, assist in cutting bureaucracy, and improve the delivery of government services. Among other benefits, it will make it easier to access birth certificates, especially for mothers and people with special needs.
The proposed Bill is just the latest attempt by the Jamaican Government to roll out the NIDS.
This following 2019 when the Supreme Court struck down a law passed in 2017 that required all citizens to enrol, indicating that it violated privacy rights. The revised Act was tabled by Delroy Chuck, Jamaica's justice minister, in the House on September 21, 2021 for the start of debate in the Lower House of Parliament.
The current revision has changed the enrolment requirement from mandatory to voluntary, and was reintroduced in 2020. It is expected to be passed into law at the end of 2021.
The plan is for issuance of a lifelong national identification number to every person. The use of biometric (fingerprint or retina scan) data is also being explored.
Coda.com says critics believe that it falls short of providing clear privacy safeguards. They also argue the request for personal information could dissuade certain populations from applying for the ID, including trans Jamaicans or people experiencing homelessness who do not have a fixed address.
The website named an advocate, Renae Green, executive director of the trans rights non-profit group TransWave Jamaica, as being concerned. The latest attempt would require any Jamaican who wants to apply for an ID to give authorities documentation showing their sex assigned at birth, which would be displayed on the back of the card, it was noted.
Green said on coda.com that she “fears that this requirement could create considerable risks by 'outing' trans Jamaicans who don't identify with their sex assigned at birth, exposing them to possible discrimination and violence while they use the card in their daily lives”.
“For a lot of trans people who are in the process or have transitioned, they just want to be able to exist and go about their business. What that looks like for a lot of people is not having to disclose their trans status,” she said. “The Bill opens us up to be outed.”
While the Jamaican Bill stipulates that digital ID enrolment is voluntary, opponents say they fear it could end up as a functionally mandatory system.
The Jamaican Government, meanwhile, has started the procurement process for NIDS infrastructure. Facilitated by a US$68-million loan from the IDB, the Office of the Prime Minister has made a call for consultants to aid with project implementation of aspects of NIDS, indicating that roll out of the technology aspect of the project has begun.
The Office of the Prime Minister, in the last week of July 2021, invited applications for a manager of card production services, project director, a manager of public key infrastructure (PKI), a PKI administrator, a security officer and a master user and enrolment coordinator. All hires will be done pursuant to the IDB's procurement policies.
The IDB-funded project, similar to ones implemented in South Korea, Finland and Uruguay, is expected to improve the quality and efficiency of public services, as well as spur the development of e-government.
It is also projected that the provision of online services by the private sector, such as e-banking and e-commerce, will benefit from the implementation of this system.