In response to the recent ruling of the nation’s highest court that theNational Identification and Registration Act (NIRA) is unconstitutional, I wrote what I thought was sobering if not an intellectual response which simply laid out some of what’s at stake now that the law is out.
Chief among the points I raised was the fact that, (a) this (NIDS) issue should not be seen as a partisan issue. (b) The court’s decision should not be viewed with partisan lenses, as the courts have a duty to rule based on what’s in the constitution. (c) Those who petitioned the court and received the positive ruling should not see themselves as winners, neither should the Government see itself as losers, as this is critical to the nation’s development. (d) I articulated a way forward which I thought could operate on parallel tracks, vis-a-vis an education campaign which precedes a rewriting of the present legislation and or an amendment to the constitution. (e) in closing, I also laid out in brief, some of the consequences of not having a national database of our citizens in our present world.
As I predicted, but had hoped would not be the case, the court’s ruling on this issue fell snugly into the crevasses of our tribal politics. As was to be expected, the conversation/debate around the issue lacks the merit it deserves based on the authenticity of both points of view, replaced with parochial and outdated political finger-pointing.
Since the decision was handed down, a group of the Island’s major private sector organizations have lent their voices by calling for the commencement of the former debate with a view to passing a new piece of legislation which will give the nation a national database of its citizens.
The group includes the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica (PSOJ), Jamaica Chamber of Commerce (JCC) and Jamaica Exporters and Manufacturers Association (JMEA).
In a joint statement, the business leaders said “As it appears that there is political consensus as to the necessity for implementing a national identification law, we strongly urge both political parties to immediately commence consultations, with a view to settling the contentious differences in the legislation and avoiding the provisions which offend our constitution, so as to return a bill to the house and enable a smooth and early passage.”
That has been this writers contention since the ruling. There is no question that Jamaica, like most other countries, MUST institute a law in which all of her citizens are known by the state.
This is not lost on the Government, it is not lost on the Business leaders, it is not lost on this writer, and it should not be lost on the nation’s opposition party.
If the Opposition PNP has legitimate concerns about potential human rights abrogations as it relates to a National Identification Law, it should act responsibly and air out those concerns commensurate with its obligations to be a reasonable and responsible Opposition party.
The position of the Opposition party’s arguments should not be brushed aside, neither should the ruling of the court be branded political because it is the easy thing to do.
The court’s decision should be viewed as an opportunity to sit down and address the parts of the legislation which the court ruled did not pass constitutional muster.
If the present constitution is too archaic and ineffectual to give cover to the (NIDS) legislation, then the nation’s leaders have a duty and a responsibility to amend the constitution, or better yet throw out the whole darn thing.
There is a mindset in our country that effectively latches onto things like crustaceans to a coral reef as the current barrels by, clinging ever so desperately even though it is clear that the position in which it finds itself is not the most tenable position.
Now, there is no denying the privacy concerns of many. Governments have not been known to be exactly the most honorable stewards of the people’s trust. Additionally, there are religious and conspiracy theories in the public domain about globalism that this writer is not about to pooh-pooh away.
The website (yourgenome.org )argues The National DNA Database has proved to be a valuable tool in the fight against crime. However, many people are concerned about how it has evolved from a database containing genetic information on convicted criminals to one that has information from a much wider group of people.
The publication went on:
The UK National DNA Database holds the DNA? profiles and relevant DNA samples from a select number of UK individuals. It is the largest database of its kind in the world and is continuing to grow each year. Every profile in the UK National DNA Database is derived from a sample of human material, such as saliva or hair, collected from a crime scene or police suspects.
However, many people are against the idea of extending the DNA database because of the potential threat it has to our privacy. While a DNA profile provides very little information about someone, their DNA sample contains information that can reveal their ethnicity or how susceptible they are to disease. The risk of data abuse is therefore potentially high.
For those on either side of this issue, a look at some of the Information on this site may be pretty helpful in arriving at a more reasoned and informed position.
Ultimately though, the trend of creating national databases seems to be the direction the world is heading and not where it is moving from.
Subsequently, though (yourgenome.org ) contends that there is no data to support the theory that having a national database with people who are not known criminals helps with solving more crimes, and that it presents a clear danger of false matches, it also argues the following.
The information derived from each DNA profile can be a powerful tool in the fight against crime. If a match is made between a DNA profile at a crime scene and a DNA profile on the database, it can help police to identify a possible suspect quickly. They can then use this information as strong evidence to demonstrate an individual is guilty of a crime.
As I wrote in the previous Article on this subject, this issue requires reasoned level-headed and mature dialogue which takes into consideration all of the pros and cons as much is available on the subject.
The decision of the court is a clear indication that the law lacked the foundational strength to withstand a constitutional smell-test.
This law affects all Jamaicans and so the challenge which came from the PNP was predictable, though the petitioners were exclusively PNP partisans.
That is the modus operandi of the People’s National party.
The INDECOM act written and constructed with the obviously same degree of alacrity as the NIDS act only affects the police so neither Government nor Opposition felt a need or responsibility to be judicious in the wording or content of the law.
They knew that the gullible and hapless police would never test its constitutionality in the courts and so it stands.
This issue will not go away, this is just the beginning of what will be a protracted process which inexorably will conclude with a different version of NIDS.
Mark my words…..