Jamaica wants to vault ahead in efficiency with biometrics and digital identity

Jamaica wants to vault ahead in efficiency with biometrics and digital identity

Seeking to promote itself as a notably modern, secure and efficient nation, Jamaica is investing in digital ID — and, in particular, biometric — system upgrades.

That promotional effort is aimed as much at international tourism, trade and logistics firms as it is aimed at Jamaica’s citizens, who often suffer through antiquated and slow services.

Details are fuzzy still, and much is still being debated, but the nation’s leaders want to build a digital society. They want systems designed to improve government efficiency, travel efficiency and security and defense capabilities.

Late last month, government leaders updated the island’s chamber of commerce on the deployment of Jamaica’s first national public key infrastructure, under e-Gov Jamaica Ltd., the certifying authority. Begun in January, the project is expected to be complete early next year, according to the Jamaica Observer.

Island residents will be catching up with many other nations already using public key infrastructure to safely and remotely complete important or even critical transactions with the government.

Implementation of the infrastructure will, for example, enable citizens at home and abroad to request, verify and print their birth certificates, eliminating a need to visit a government office. It would seem to be a welcome benefit for the 36 percent of Jamaicans living abroad who find themselves needing to confirm their identity.

For citizens and businessowners on the island, the time savings also would be significant.

According to a 2019 report published by the Inter-American Development Bank, it took someone in Jamaica an average of 4.1 hours to complete a government transaction in 2017.

The average was 4.3 hours for all Caribbean nations. Latin American nations average that year was 5.4 hours. The longest ordeals in either region occur in Bolivia, where transactions average 11.3 hours.

Those numbers account for transportation to and from government offices from home, waiting in line and standing at the counter. It does not count time spent outside an agency’s office waiting for a resolution, according to the bank.

The government is looking at a farther horizon, too. It has said the public key infrastructure will be the beginning of digital identification for all residents.

Biometrics are being examined in Jamaica as well. MBJ Airports Ltd., which operates the island’s Sangster International Airport is considering biometrics to keep airport patrons moving quickly. MBJ Airports leaders estimate that it could take two years to buy, integrate and deploy biometrics, possibly including facial recognition.

Jamaica also is starting to look at bigger budgets for advanced border security systems, especially to stop people from illegally trading drugs and food for guns with criminals who dart into and out of the island’s territorial waters.

The nation has invested steadily if not impressively in “the mobility, communications, surveillance, and forensic capabilities of the police force,” according to the Jamaica Social Investment Fund.

There are proposals to increase boat and airplane resources to levels that would allow for 24-hour patrols. Night patrols alone would seem to invite investment in machine vision hardware and software.

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