A University of the West Indies law lecturer Monday called for Government to put the brakes on the Barbados National Digital ID set to roll out soon and rethink the bill governing it, claiming it is an intrusive government’s “assault on liberty”.
Dr Ronnie Yearwood argued that the national identity register proposed under the Barbados Identity Management Bill “looks like an assault on liberty, and an unnecessary instruction by the government in the collection and use of personal data.”
Last Tuesday, Attorney General Dale Marshall in tabling the bill in the House of Assembly said: “A computer chip containing an individual’s fingerprint, driver’s licence and other personal data are to be included in the pending Barbados Digital ID and National ID Card.
Marshall gave an assurance that the data on the chip would be protected and would only be shared with whom the holder allows to access the information.
But Yearwood, also an attorney-at-law, said he found the bill “troubling” on several grounds.
He first took issue with the AG’s disclosure that the card could have one’s fingerprint if so desired.
Marshall had told the House: “The last administration wanted to make fingerprint mandatory. The last administration wanted to introduce a new ID card but one of the hallmarks of what they were doing is that you had to give your fingerprint at all times.
“And in opposition, we took the position no .. this is not a police state and we cannot agree as a responsible political party representing Barbadians that we needed to give this kind of data. And now that we are in Government and have the opportunity to put these things in place, our position is that you can give your fingerprint if you wish but you cannot be compelled to do so.”
Dr Yearwood challenged Section 12 of the bill which states that “where a person is unable to produce his identification card, the person authorised to require such identification shall, unless another form of identification is authorised by law, defer consideration of the person or refuse access until such time as the relevant identification card is produced”.
He said: ”This is not something to be taken lightly because in effect it says that an individual is not presumed to be who they are until they can prove so with the ID. It looks like a shift of power from the individual to the government, and not only a shift but a control of data, surrounding proof of who an individual says they are. This feels very much like the surveillance, police-type state that the AG had problems with when in Opposition, his words not ours.”
Dr Yearwood went on to question suggestions from the AG that the new ID would significantly reduce opportunities for fraud, citing recent local reports of a list that carried personal information such as the names, addresses and COVID-19 statuses of close to 150 people making the rounds on social media sites WhatsApp and Instagram. He also pointed to the recent beach of Jamaica’s JamCOVID app and website which exposed quarantine orders on more than half a million travellers to the island.
He said: “Governments in the Caribbean, most recently as reported in Jamaica where the immigration website was breached, have not showered themselves in glory when it comes to data security. We have no reason to believe that Barbados, like other Caribbean countries, is not the same. Take our own issue where it appeared that there was a breach of data regarding COVID patients. Should we be comfortable with massive data collection and centralization by the Government?”
Dr Yearwood added that it was puzzling that the bill was passed before a promised public education campaign for Barbadians.
He said: “Could a case not be made to modernise the current laminated ID, without the need for this bill? I do not think that the Government has convincingly made the case for this bill. This is especially when the National register looks like profiling and we should demand a ‘pause’ on this bill or a rethink if it was passed into law.”
The current Barbados ID card, which has been around since 1979, is a laminated paper containing the basic information of a registration number, the holder’s name, sex, date of birth, nationality, height, date of issue and a signature. (SD)