I extend my sincere condolence to the family of the late Hon. Oliver Clarke, and his family at The Gleaner and Jamaica National. He will be missed.
I used to hate repeating myself until I had lunch with the late MH Hugh Lawson Shearer. He laughed heartily when I told him that, and his sage advice was that if you wanted people to understand, you had to say it one hundred times; and if you had bad news that you didn’t want people to know, put it on the front page of a national newspaper. So here we go again.
The current debate on the National Identity System has been skilfully brought out of the woodwork at a time when the national attention is fully absorbed by COVID-19; quarantine; curfews; and sheer survival. Electoral validation is not possible, and a trip to constituency offices is nigh impossible.
For the record, there is nothing wrong with a national I.D. and in stipulated circumstances it could be worthwhile. The problems arise from the lack of trust that has been cultivated over decades of slavery; discrimination; injustice; and political divisions that have never been mentally resolved. It is echoed everyday on the news: stabbed, shot, killed, because he was a PNJLP “activist”. No one will testify because the so-called loyalists will take revenge.
Revenge is an emotion best served cold; if not it will continue to burn. Trust: “consumatum est”, the last words of Jesus meaning “it is finished”.
The plain truth is that a national identity could have been a part of a Constitutional debate and human rights amendment, but that would have allowed for other reforms such as the right to a passport; fixed election dates; automatic voter registration (without community “activists” joining house to house enumeration; and other much-needed improvements. Trust and citizens’ rights are sides of the same coin.
So back to the trust elements of NIDS.
The problem with digital databases is SECURITY. The largest and most sophisticated military and intelligence operations have been hacked by opposing forces’ espionage: including the Pentagon; the CIA; MI6; nuclear weapons research; biological warfare research; telecommunications including cellphones; and we are now at new systems control beyond fingerprints and iris scanning.
The private international sectors are no exemptions, and patents, formulas, strategic plans, e-mail, telephone conversations, have led to more abuse than under analog systems that required actual physical interceptions.
Underpinning these are the questions of “leaked” information so frequently used by investigative journalism, and that brings in the “weakest link” viz. human beings. Poor programming (or intentionally flawed or hidden) coding and execution commands can release “viruses” that steal silently; monitor; corrupt; ransomware demands; or other forms of blackmail.
Most companies have elaborate security protection of data training, but this is after the fact, and they don’t know where “the Dark Net” really exists as the Internet is not an independent, interdependent, nor discreet place. This is why many people are concerned and afraid of 5G (which will eventually move to 6G) and Big Brother Artificial Intelligence will truly be in control. We may well need our own Terminator.
We do not have the local ability to fully secure and guarantee the financial scope of damages through court proceedings that may result from lawsuits related to leaked documents. Our state of expertise will not be able to assemble the insurance or cash necessary for an indemnity that must be a part of this NIDS citizens’ indemnity programme.
The sophistication of designing, coding, implementing and supporting elaborate systems that must be attended and maintained for decades to come is not available here. Yes, we use apps (written by others), and buy enterprise systems (written by others), with little regard for the long-term viability of those software firms and the subsequent withdrawal of systems support.
The Government will be unable to pay the market salaries with full transparency as that will upset the entire Civil Service scales, demands, and industrial action. Nurses, doctors, firefighters, security guards, minimum wage workers, and all others will be frightened to know what a top-class systems engineer and manager would have to be paid in order to leave IBM and Microsoft. “What a bam bam.”
So at the basis or foundation must be the concept of trust, and that is between real people, not me and a computer interface. The first move could be name, address, and fingerprint (already used for a National Voter Identification). These do not seem sensitive as even political thugs, criminals, wanted people, deceased individuals, and others seem to vote with impunity.
I urge caution and extensive debate in order to ensure that Jamaicans do not resist the elements that may be useful. Mistrust will be a major problem that must be considered. Already the unofficial economy is as large as the formal, so please let us not push people into the underground and hidden darkness that the NIDS is trying to escape.