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Data privacy concerns persist over national digital identity system for Jamaica



Concerns about the safety of personal data to be collected for Jamaica’s National Identity System (NIDS) program have again been raised by some academics and lawyers in the country.

Public defender Arlene Harrison Henry holds that the amount of data to be captured and stored in the NIDS database is too much, a thing she say, is tantamount to “intrusion” on the private lives and spaces of citizens, The Gleaner reports.

The outlet in a different report also quoted the Dean of the Faculty of Law at The University of West Indies, Mona, Dr Shazeeda Ali, as raising similar fears, saying the proposed NIDS will likely interfere with some privacy rights of citizens in the country.

NIDS seeks to put in place a comprehensive and secure platform where identity information will be captured from citizens and stored in a centralized system. The goal, according to the country’s authorities, is to assign a unique nine-digit national identification number (NIN) to every citizen with which they can access certain public services.

The legal framework for the project – the National Identification and Registration Act 2020 – is being reviewed by various stakeholders for their input, but data privacy as well as other aspects in the draft legislation have come under criticism.

Speaking recently to a joint select committee reviewing the NIDS Act, Public Defender Henry, sustained that the amount of data to be collected was “massive” and records all key aspects of an individual’s life and their life story, per The Gleaner.

Henry also picked issues with some sections of the Act (Section 11 (1) and Section 11 (2)) saying there was no harmony between them. She equally told the committee she was in support of the position by the Lawyers Christian Fellowship that the law should not deny access to private or public services for anyone who is not enrolled with the NIDS, The Gleaner mentioned.

Meanwhile, Dr. Shazeeda Ali, in her submission to the same committee, emphasized the need to protect the privacy of Jamaicans, citing the constitution which guarantees the right to privacy of a citizen’s person, property, private family life, home and communication, The Gleaner noted.

The report also cited a lecturer in the same Faculty, Andre Sheckleford, who expressed worries about transaction of NIDS data, arguing that there was need for adequate protection of transactional metadata.

Jamaican authorities addressed these data privacy worries in January, saying the biometric data being collected for the national identification database will be encrypted in order to avoid any data breaches. They said other steps were being taken to ensure identity security and the safeguard of information collected from citizens so as to make the process secure.

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