Happy birthday, NIDS!

Franklin Johnston

Friday, November 24, 2017

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A national identification system (NIDS) is the Holy Grail of planners and executives. It's the key to the “Prosperity Agenda” I have written about for years. I was bound for Harvard when a telegram from a minister invited me to Jamaica. So, fresh from Oxford, I met a World Bank/Inter-American Development Bank representative and took custody of a report on a bottom-up national registration system. The driver was schools. How many kids would be six, seven, etc, each year, and by 2020 all persons under 50 would be in the base.

We did schematics, prepped a PERT/CPM project room, but life intervened. Later I managed Government's computer bureau — big machines in a building with climate, dust, liquid, and motion controls. My boss at the planning institute is not with us, anymore and did not know that today some guy would carry the Beta system and national database on a small tablet in his pocket — wow! Some 45 years later, this is still dear to me so, “Happy Birthday, NIDS!”

Solutions to transport, security, health, education, housing are likely if we have good data. And, as data is fungible, we might get rich too. Congratulations to Prime Minister Andrew Holness, Parliament and the technical team. NIDS will be three to five years in gestation, so we have time.

I would have advised two Bills — one to build the database fast, then the disputed operating and transaction rules Bill later. Not normal but, where has normal got us in 55 years?

NIDS will be awesome, but we need social marketing with a hard edge to register all. You recall we left pounds, shillings for dollars and cents, but there was motivation for the masses; then it was after polio hit hard that hold-outs rushed the vaccine. What now? Rasta said family planning was “a plot to kill black people” — it worked, right?! Cabinets are risk-averse and fear we may not vote for them. Yet, Portia and Peter walked us safely through the valley of the shadow of debt. So lead off, Brother Andrew!

We commend the Opposition on its move to force deep analysis, but public ignorance never shackles a Cabinet. Who took us into Caricom/Caribbean Single Market and Economy with no public education? So what's the worst that can happen? Have no fear, each of us can see his/her data on demand, and who is using it so we can punish abusers at the polls. Despite 'big chat', proximity means we rely on America, so we safe! Our family and cash are not in China or St Lucia, and even Rasta on witness protection choose America, not Africa. That said, we need a joint political party mechanism to audit changes.

So what about NIDS don't you like? We know most biometric data is already in hospital, embassy, border control, police, firearm files. Fingerprint, photo, signature, tissue, retina scan are core to NIDS, but some are options. Not to be self-referential, but titles office told me my house was not mine as the name on the title has no “t”. Might a retina scan convince them I am me? As fingerprints develop late mothers must get a baby foot scan to avoid abduction. Today, King Solomon would not be carving a baby. At the tragic Grenfell Tower fire in London they used teeth, bits of skin, hair, to identify the dead. How do we identify victims when police find a cesspit with mush and teeth? In British prisons some are disabled; no hands, no feet or fingerprints, and facial contortions. They have options, so must NIDS! We may find men with multiple passports or two wives, women who give men “jackets”, and gunmen. Your biographical data is also out there in school and employment files, but penetrating these bureaucracies would stall NIDS for decades.

NIDS can't work with “no fixed address”, so Cabinet must incentivise massive investment in rental housing (build-to-sell will never meet demand) and sync housing policy with security. London police raided homes 70 miles away in two hours of a terrorist attack as housing policy supports the crime fight. Everyone must have an address, and to move and not tell the authority is jail-worthy. They have no NIDS, but data nodes can interrogate each other. The UK has 40 million cars, and if you veer into a bus lane in error, a time and date photo with ticket is in your inbox the next day. We have one million cars; is this scalable?

Biometric data is fixed, but we can change biographical data. We see old diplomas with new names; but every part of your body is unique. Data security is no deal breaker, as rich USA can't even protect data on elections. Google spends billions, but determined hackers win. Check www.haveIbeenpwned.com as you may be compromised. Educate our people, buy insurance, and pray! Smart meters can tell when you use your vibrator, so, Sir, which law protects us from consumer analytics? You buy flour, salt fish, matches, two sticks of smokes; poor man — -duh?! Add tampons, it's a she; add crayons, a single mother of an infant; add condoms, she has a man — your life is revealed as you buy. Many of us may not be able to leave here. We saw a lady seeking help, so a border officer took her to a passport machine: “Lady, you are an adult; read the screen and follow the instructions.” Helpless, humiliated, illiterate? If the USA was starting social security today Americans would bawl, but rush the benefits. Holness, NIDS needs incentives, so the masses register faster — win phone, credit?

In systems, work change is not one-off, so to build-out fast an unobtrusive joint political party consultative team should be on call to NIDS. Public trust matters, and “cass cass” only gives detractors ammunition. Go, NIDS! Stay conscious.

Franklin Johnston, DPhil (Oxon), is a strategist and project manager. Send comments to the Observer or franklinjohnstontoo@gmail.com.

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