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Jamaica electoral body denies selling biometric data for online authentication service

Jamaica electoral body denies selling biometric data for online authentication service

Accusations of improper digital ID and biometric data sharing have been leveled against the Electoral Commission of Jamaica (ECJ) after private sector entities were granted paid access to its database, according to a report by The Jamaica Gleaner.

Lawyers provided different interpretations of the legal status of the transactions with credit bureaus and other financial institutions. The ECJ collected approximately $300,000 from two contracts with credit bureaus between 2019 and 2021, according to the report, for an online authentication service. Contracts with eight financial institutions over that time made the electoral body an additional $1 million, the Gleaner writes.

The ECJ denied selling voter’s data in a public statement responding to the allegations.

“The ECJ/Electoral Office of Jamaica (EOJ) does not sell access nor has it granted access to the elector registration voter identification database, which includes electors’ biometric and demographic information,” the organization states.

The statement says the electors’ card functions as the country’s national ID credential for processes such as opening bank accounts and collecting remittances. The agency explained that it provides “an extract” of its database for digital ID verification.

“The fee that is charged to these institutions in need of verifying electors’ card information is the actual cost for maintenance of this replica database and not a scheme for the ECJ/EOJ to be profiteering from the personal information of its stakeholders,” said the ECJ.

Asked by the Gleaner if it had granted third-party access to voters’ biometric data for a follow-up article, the ECJ denied the claim.

“It is the holder of the card who grants and authorises the entity to check and ensure that the card is genuine by presenting his/her voter ID to the entity and giving it their unique identifier number without which access to the replica card cannot be done.”

The controversy comes at an awkward time for Jamaica, as it is about to begin issuing National Identification System (NIDS) cards on a trial basis. That project has sparked its own data privacy concerns.

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