Editorial

We give up privacy on social media, why fight NIDS?

Thursday, November 23, 2017

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The Data Protection Act, as outlined in Parliament on Tuesday, should go a far way to quiet the fears of many Jamaicans who believe the National Identification and Registration Act, or NIDS, will be too intrusive.

In a more perfect world, the Data Protection Bill, which was tabled in the House on October 3, 2017, would have travelled hand in hand with NIDS as that might have allayed the genuine doubts of Jamaicans who want the national identification but not a loss of privacy.

We in this space have been clear in our support for NIDS as a tool of modern development that is, like it or not, inevitable.

In fact, even without the depth of personal information required by NIDS, Jamaicans are being forced by a slew of agencies and institutions to turn over confidential data to secure goods and services from a pin to an anchor.

For example, it goes from as little as having to divulge the source of funds to send money by remittance agencies, even from one parish to another in Jamaica, to telling one's life story, nothing short of writing one's autobiography on numerous forms in order to open a bank account, take out a car loan or buy a house.

Indeed, under the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA), which is a statute of the United States of America geared at combating tax circumvention by US individuals, Jamaican account holders who have upwards of US$50,000 must be reported to the US.

With that goes the account number; account balance or value; the total gross amount of interest, dividends or other income paid or credited to the account; and all other personal information deemed relevant to that. And we have no choice in the matter.

Prime Minister Andrew Holness, in his statement to the House on the Data Protection Bill, was right in saying: “Every day Jamaicans give up their privacy. We give it up to Facebook; we give it up to Twitter, we give it up to telephone companies; we just give it up.

“And there is a notion that privacy is 'nobody knows', but that's not privacy. What is privacy is that you have a State that protects your information so only those who should have access get access.”

We suspect that Jamaicans mostly understand this. The fear that we are seeing reflects a lack of confidence in State institutions handling of citizens' affairs generally. And there is more than enough justification for that.

Notice, for example, how people reporting traumatic incidents in their life at a police station have to do so in the hearing of other people; or at a hospital reception area; personal files are frequently strewn about on random desks, open for anyone to view; and now it's a cyber world which is still foreign to many State institutions.

We are holding the prime minister to his assertion that: “…The integrity of the State will be bolstered by legislation such as the Data Protection Bill… More than ever, you need a strong, honest State with integrity to defend the privacy of the people…”

These are times in which we have to grow up as a nation. That entails making tough decisions from which we cannot hide. The good thing is that we have the power of review if things don't go as planned.

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