On September 21, 2021, Jamaica’s minister of justice, Delroy Chuck, filed the National Identification and Registration Act, 2020 in Jamaica’s House of Representatives (draft bill). The draft bill regulates the establishment and operation of the National Identification System (NIDS) in Jamaica. The current text of the draft bill revises prior legislation from 2017 that was struck down by the Jamaican Supreme Court on the grounds that the mandatory registration of all Jamaican citizens violated their right to privacy. The 2020 revision, accordingly, would change the enrollment requirement from mandatory to voluntary.
The draft bill establishes the Office of the Registrar-General within the newly created National Identification and Registration Authority and regulates its management and activities. It further provides for the creation of national databases consisting of the National Identification Databases, in which all the identity information collected by the authority under the act is stored; and the Civil Registration Databases, in which all the information kept by the registrar-general for the purposes of civil registration is stored. The draft bill defines the purposes for which these databases may be used.
Under the draft bill, the National Identification and Registration Authority would maintain a registry, enrollment in which would be voluntary. An individual wishing to enroll would have to provide personal biographic information, including full name, date and place of birth, names of mother and father, gender, principal place of residence and any other places of residence, nationality, marital status, name of spouse, and occupation.
Enrollment would also require the provision of a personal facial image, fingerprints, a manual signature, and reference numbers, such as registration number, driver’s license number, passport number, national insurance number, and elector registration number.
Commentators expect that the latest text of the draft bill will be passed into law at the end of 2021. The plan reportedly calls for the issuance of a lifelong national identification number to every person in Jamaica and may require the use of biometric (fingerprint or retina scan) data as well.
The National Identification System
NIDS was developed by the Jamaican government to “capture and store personal identity information for citizens and persons ordinarily resident in Jamaica.” A procurement process for NIDS infrastructure has reportedly commenced on the basis of a US$68 million loan from the Inter-American Development Bank and is “expected to improve the quality and efficiency of public services, as well as spur the development of e-government.” The Jamaican government expects NIDS 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 government listed the following objectives for the development of NIDS:
1. To establish a reliable database of Jamaican citizens and other individuals ordinarily resident in Jamaica, with a unique National Identification Number (NIN) as the primary key identifier of a person in the system.
2. To enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of Government entities, management and delivery of Government services to the public; to include programme benefits such as the National Insurance Scheme (NIS), the National Health Fund (NHF), welfare, E-government (with the use of the NIN, creating the linkages between entities and providing the following services: Citizen to Government C2G, Government to Government G2G services, Government to Business G2B services and Government to Citizen G2C services) among others.
3. To facilitate the growth and development of commerce and economic activity through the provision of a platform of greater security and integrity for public partnerships.
4. To enhance the Government’s ability to secure compliance with critical obligations to the state to include tax collection, among others.
5. Strengthening of immigration, border control management, public safety and national security.
Critics have expressed concerns that the 2020 draft bill falls short of providing clear privacy safeguards. Among other things, some argue that the request for personal information could dissuade certain populations from applying for the identification card, such as trans-Jamaicans, who would have to give authorities documentation showing their sex assigned at birth, or people experiencing homelessness who do not have a fixed address.