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I can see many advantages to having a single national identify document. However, I know that life can go on perfectly well without one, as mine has, living nearly 50 years in the UK and USA, neither of which has a national ID system (NIDS) and governments and institutions of neither of which has ever confused me with anyone else or misdirected any transaction with me, except through some mistaken address after I moved.

I’ve travelled in and spent extensive time in countries that have NIDS (eg Germany and France) and life goes on smoothly and with hiccups and is organized in ways to maximize State awareness of people and their particulars. However, good bureaucratic organization was not driven by NIDS, but rather NIDS built up them. Any country that has good organization knows how to deliver goods and services to citizens. Any country that has poor organization won’t become good at it because it has a way of knowing citizens’ particulars.

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Caribbean Policy Research Institute (CaPRI) held a webinar yesterday on research they’d done looking at some general issues related to a national identity system, as well as some data regarding such a scheme in Jamaica. You can watch the recording, below:

They looked at the unbanked and if access to an ID was a major blockage in getting access to social programmes.

They considered young people (under 18), who in Jamaica only have access to a passport as an official means of ID.

Matters of data privacy were highlighted:

Interoperability is a basic problem with the official IDs that currently exist in Jamaica, though each functions well and securely in its own rights:

Independent oversight of a national ID system was discussed by one of the panelists, an expert on human rights:

Amongst comments from the panelists, it was stressed that data protection should precede the issuance of a national ID:

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Some of own views on NIDS in Jamaica are as follows:

Discussion of NIDS in Jamaica been based on several myths. The worst of these currently is NIDS is the gateway to a digital society. If that holds water, then why did Napoleon introduce ID cards in France in the 19th century? If it were a gateway to a digital society, how did the USA and UK launch themselves successfully on that path without national IDs? In the UK’s case, it famously introduced a NIDS in 2005 and scrapped it in 2010.

However, it may appears, NIDS are form of central control of citizens. That’s not bad in itself, though how Nazis used it in the 1930s should not be the model. It’s way to organize society & usually separate citizens from foreigners; again, not bad in itself, but prone to abuse.

Jamaica needs social controls. Is NIDS the answer? It’s a hard sell. Most Jamaicans are known to the State in person and by residence (that latter isn’t so critical in dynamic society). People sometimes refer to the practice of many Jamaicans to be known by nicknames; this can be covered by NIDS. Some have concerns that not all locations have formal addresses. Again, that should not be a major problem for NIDS; many ways exist to determine if a stated location exists (with modern technology, it could be a geotag or GPS location).

Misidentification of people is rare in Jamaica: if one notes police reports, for example, it’s rare for them to state that the person has no name or is somehow unknown. As noted above, it’s irrelevant for NIDS if a person goes by ‘Supercat’ and is also known as ‘Delroy Francis’. Identity is not an issue.

Fraudulent use of ID documents is rare in Jamaica (according to CaPRI)—<500 cases 2014-18, noted above across passports, TRNs and voter IDs.

Nothing stops GOJ from issuing a special ID for people under 18, maybe with the proviso that this be exchanged for another ID when they become adults. Many countries have school IDs that serve such purposes. This could also have the benefit of ‘under age’ people not lying about their age and getting access to age-prohibited items, eg alcohol. (One reason Jamaican may have less fraud with IDs is that lying about your age to get a drink or smoke is not a real problem in Jamaica!)

If the government of Jamaica (GOJ) argues it has problems delivering services to people, it hasn’t shown that’s not its incompetence at work, or problems with financial institutions (pensions issues argue strongly that’s the case as many people wait year for payments), when banking access or identity are not problems. This was the case this summer when NCB had technical problems).

Banking access is a weak reason for NIDS: financial institutions have few problems with existing IDs. Customers have problems opening bank accounts because of references, complying with banks’ ‘know your customer’ rules, and minimum balance constraints. New bank accounts reduce the need for IDs and minimum balances. With NCB’s introduction of its new Quick Save account, individuals will only be required to present a Government of Jamaica-issued ID, a Taxpayer Registration Number (TRN) and J$100 to become a bank account holder; maximum balances should not exceed $250,000.

The bigger problem is that current IDs aren’t interoperable. Can that be fixed? We hear nothing on that, relative to a totally new ID system. But, the question must be answered. Interoperability exists in other jurisdictions but is overcome by efficient operations amongst service and goods providers.

Another major problem is simply arbitrary practices across organizations. All GOJ issued IDs should have the same status. I point to the ludicrous situation where I am trained and certified by GOJ to be the trusted person to attest for others, and that is often essential when conducting many transactions. However, my GOJ-issued JP ID card is not accepted as proof of identification by Jamaican financial institutions! I also point out that my Jamaican driver’s licence is readily accepted as ID when I am overseas, if I choose to not present a passport: I’ve done it recently with banking transactions in the USA.

Digitization brings other problems & they’re not yet well addressed, namely how secure will be the database: systems in other countries have had recent data breaches as their major problems. This was the case in Estonia in late-2017, that affected around 750,000 people.

Accepted, nothing is perfect. But use right hammer and right nails to build the box.