Jamaica Government Weighing Options After Court Declares ID Law Unconstitutional

Prime Minister Andrew Holness

KINGSTON, Jamaica, Monday April 15, 2019 – The Jamaica government is contemplating its next move after suffering a huge blow when the Constitutional Court struck down legislation to create a national identification system.

In a brief statement, the Andrew Holness administration said it “is respectful of the court’s ruling and will spend some time carefully reviewing the judgment, after which a more fulsome response will be forthcoming”.

Last Friday, Chief Justice Bryan Sykes delivered the ruling of the three-member panel that the National Identification and Registration Act, which is referred to as the NIDS Act, was null and void due to infringements on privacy as well as an individual’s right to choice.

“Having declared some of the provisions in violation of the charter, we are of the view that what was left could not stand because…it was so bound up with the other provisions that there is no way it could survive by itself… and the other route was that what was left would still be in violation of the constitution… And so we are of the view that the National Identification and Registration Act is to be declared null and void and of no legal effect,” he said.

The NIDS was intended to provide a comprehensive structure to enable the capture and storage of identity information for all Jamaicans. Under the system, each citizen would be provided with a nine-digit National Identification Number (NIN), which they would have for life. Every Jamaican was expected to register for a NIN, and those who did would be unable to access certain government services and risked criminal prosecution.

However, the Chief Justice said the collection of biometric data under NIDS would impact information privacy.

“The legislation here in Jamaica makes provision in some instances for iris scans. The literature tells us that you can glean information about a person’s state of health from an iris scan, you can determine almost what illness they are suffering, what is the likely medication they are on, and other things that are very personal and private to them. So, it is not just simply a matter of we are just collecting biometric information to be used for identification; there are other implications of that, so hence the question of informational privacy loomed large in our considerations,” he said, adding that the protections under the Act for the storage and safety of information while in the possession of the State were inadequate.

Justice Sykes also contended that the mandatory requirement of the NIDS Act deprives the individual of choice.

The challenge to the Act had been brought by the opposition People’s National Party (PNP) General Secretary Julian Robinson who said certain provisions of the law infringe some of his constitutional rights. He said the legislation was flawed as a result of the Government acting too hastily to implement it.

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