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Jamaica’s NIDS bill: human rights recommendations dismissed, still time to rectify

Access Now is urging members of the Jamaican Parliament to prioritize human rights while debating on the National Identification and Registration bill. After the report from the Joint Select Committee on the National Identification System (NIDS) in Jamaica that seemingly dismissed many recommendations from the Jamaicans for Justice and Slashroots Foundation-led, NIDS Focus Coalition, and other civil society organizations, it is now up to Parliament to ensure civil society voices are included in the new bill (Act of 2021).

“The foundation of any digital ID system must be safeguarding human rights, and it’s therefore critical we have discussions around Jamaica’s National Identification and Registration bill before it’s too late,” said Verónica Arroyo, Policy Associate at Access Now. “Access Now is disappointed by the Joint Select Committee’s proposed amendments, and calls on Parliament to incorporate civil society’s recommendations to protect people across Jamaica.”

In its report to Parliament, the Committee failed to highlight serious flaws in the bill (Act of 2020), including:

  • Dismissing the data minimization principle, which is key to avoiding the collection of excessive and irrelevant data to provide legal identity. The NIDS Focus Coalition recommended limits to the quantity of information collected, and make non-essential information optional, yet the Joint Select Committee believes that it is good to collect extraneous personal and biometric data in a centralized system. 
  • Opening the door for the disclosure of information to third parties in the future, without individual consent, or judicial decision, and with no limitations. While civil society underscored the urgency of narrowing the open-ended power to use, process, and store information by third parties to whom the information has been disclosed, the Committee rejected the recommendation with no explanation.
  • Dismissing stronger safeguards for authentication logs, potentially providing space for profiling and surveilling citizens. The Committee failed to define  “Accredited Third Parties,” who could eventually access the logs. The Committee’s report doesn’t even acknowledge (in favor or against) other recommendations on the topic, such as limiting the disclosure on duration and purpose, including technical information about the system design, and guaranteeing people’s right to have control over their authentication logs. 

Access Now acknowledges the Committee’s efforts to improve the bill in some areas such as transparency towards individuals on the disclosed personal data, and highlighting the need for an operational Data Protection Act before the NIDS commences to protect people’s data — although this was not strongly defended. Yet, much more should have been incorporated to establish a human rights respecting digital ID system that will affect not only Jamaica’s current population, but generations to come. 

Parliament will now debate the approval of the bill (Act of 2021). Access Now calls on members of the Parliament to look beyond the Committee’s report, and incorporate the various civil society voices who contributed rights-centric recommendations. The 2019 NIDS bill ignored the people of Jamaica, but there’s still time to listen, debate, and include them in the 2021 iteration.