New National Identification System for Jamaicans

Therese Turner Jones

KINGSTON, Jamaica– Jamaica will have a reliable identification system that will make it easier and cheaper for citizens and legal residents to prove their identity for a variety of transactions, from opening bank accounts to getting social services from government agencies.

By reducing transactional costs on identity verification, the National Identification System (NIDS) will help cut bureaucracy and improve the delivery of government services. Among other benefits, it will make it easier to access birth certificates, especially for mothers and persons with special needs.

Each citizen will get a National Identity Number (NIN), in keeping with international best standards and backed by biometric characteristics. Obtaining a NIN verifies the identities of all registered Jamaicans with all public sectors and private companies. The NIN (and its corresponding National Identification Card, NIC) will be the only identification required for most transactions, and will be required to do business with a government entity.

The project – which will strengthen the civil registry, enhance the ability for the public and private sector to introduce identity verification and the implementation of the National Identification System – is being financed with a US$68 million loan approved by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB).It will bring Jamaica to the forefront of modern identity management, in line with Estonia, South Korea, Finland and Uruguay, among others.

As has occurred in other countries, the National Identification System will be instrumental in improving the quality and efficiency of public services, as well as spurring the development of E-Government. The provision of online services by the private sector, such as e-banking and e-commerce, will also benefit from the implementation of this system.

To obtain a passport, Jamaicans must present four documents, a time and resource burden on both citizens and government agencies. Jamaicans must present three proofs of identity and two references to open a bank account, raising the cost of the transaction due to lost time and other costs to US$93.

“Having a personal identity is a universal right, but proving it can be a challenge,” said Therese Turner-Jones, the IDB representative in Jamaica. “With the National Identification System, Jamaicans will be spared the ordeal of providing multiple documents to obtain even the simplest of government services. It will replace a patchwork system that is prone to fraud with an advanced, technologically safe system that is in keeping with the highest international standards.”

Turner-Jones noted that the NIDS’ legal framework and its implementing legislation limits the government’s access to personal data, and emphasizes the protection of individuals’ privacy rights.

The IDB noted that Jamaica lacks an institutional framework for identity management. It said three main government entities are issuing functional documents that, in the absence of an identification system, have been used as identity documents. Few civil records are digitalized, and birth and death records are not linked, weakening the system’s ability to prevent identity theft. More than one in four deaths goes unregistered.

The NIN will help ensure all Jamaican children can be identified and have access to health services and a wide range of social programmes. Children will be better protected against kidnapping and child trafficking, which are on the rise worldwide.