The question of numbers, their composition, their security, and access and retrieval, was the main reason for the extended sitting of the Senate regarding the passage of the National ID (NIDS). However, due to the strong, and at times over-vigorous, interchanges there are several precedents to be considered that may not have surfaced so far that open the questions that go beyond the obvious.
I will attempt to outline several of these but will readily admit that these concerns do not address the entire list and are not collectively exhaustive. There are genuine fears that have not been readily allayed and can be answered in the aftermath of the passage of the legislation. These are:
- Have we explored the root causes of the previous difficulties in the NIS registration numbers, and the NHT numbers that required major adjustment?
- The Electronic Identification for voting purposes was abandoned, and was it for technological inadequacy?
- What has the general success of the succeeding governments been with implementing and securing data processes that have been essential?
- With regard to 3, why were firearms licences not effectively interlocked with police records?
- The current Voter Identification (interchangeably called National Idenitity) has been informally included in the processes for transactions in business, but was this really legal?
- Have we had cases of police tampering with evidence and cases having to be thrown out?
- Will this new system be immediately accepted for automatic voter registration and the law updated without the need for the two major political parties giving their assent at the Electoral Commission?
- Do we simply have the depth and scope of talent to make this project happen without corruption in the process?
- Will haste make waste?
10.What is the cost of the implementation changes to business systems already in place?
In the past we have attempted to implement information technologies that have gone far beyond the ability of local talent to write the programs, or maintain programs, and so we are at the mercy of overseas entities to fulfil these requirements at very high costs. The evidence associated with systems that we have purchased (not written) is a common denominator of cost. There are ongoing licence fees, cost of upgrades (like the Windows series), and the risk associated with the vendor closing down, or being unwilling to support the system.
In those cases the lack of access to original flowcharts and core programming codes constitutes a risk for continuity as they form part of the intellectual property of the vendor. Additionally, we do not seem to be turning out the level of programmers that can continue the maintenance and upgrades that provide for a seamless future overhaul of the systems. Programming languages change frequently but this is a mainframe national initiative with far-reaching consequences for failure. This is not “an App”.
In an environment that regrettably is becoming known for identity theft, the critical isolation of information is an inherent feature of building trust. Currently I use my Voter I.D. when processing a credit card transaction as it has no link to my financial information. However my driver’s licence is linked to my TRN and therefore more information is contained in that, including my address.
That has already been hacked and I receive postal mail at home from a company in Switzerland purporting to collect a non-existent bill from Baptist Hospital in Miami. Many others have had similar experiences. If hackers can enter CIA and National Security files in the USA and other technologically advanced societies, then should we feel secure in this Jamaican environment?
Many companies run payroll and supplier payment systems based on a TRN. Also, at a university like UWI, there are hundreds of thousands of student records that have to be maintained for very long time periods. They are important for job applications, passports, migration, and access to further studies. I can remember the millennium crisis hysteria, and the several changes to GCT rates that cost many programming adjustments to accounts and tax computations.
I have identified only a few of many areas that may incur substantial costs in changing and maintaining transactions and records that are not included in the US$8 million that is the Government’s initial estimate. The cost to industry will dwarf that initial expenditure, and will affect current government records systems and their need for swift information.
The critical way forward is to agree the changes before implementation and to answer critical questions that will incur further costs. This is not just a US$8 million project for the country, and the citizens need to anticipate the real cost before they are caught unawares.
I am fully in favour of the NIDS programme, however I would like to know what to expect rather than getting the “puss in a bag surprise”.