ID register will be optional in face of backlash

| 01/12/2022 | 141 Comments
Cayman News Service
Minister André Ebanks on For the Record

(CNS): The minister responsible for innovation, André Ebanks, has said that following feedback and concerns in the community about the new legislation supporting the long-awaited national identification programme, changes are now being made to the bills due to go before parliament next week. The most significant is a decision to make the population register optional. When the two bills were rolled out for public consultation, officials said that while having a card would be voluntary, registration of the resident population on the supporting system would be mandatory.

The government had planned to put every person’s name, date of birth, gender and status on that register, initially lifting the information from huge amounts of existing data at WORC, which has records on almost the entire population. The plan was then to use the General Registry to fill in the gaps of those Caymanians who have never done business with WORC or travelled out of the country.

Once the register was complete, people could then choose to apply for a National identity card with its own unique identity code, and it would be up to each applicant how much additional information they wanted to attach to the card and who could access it. This would then serve to gradually eliminate repetitive form filling, questions about status and the need for everyone to carry an armful of documents to verify their identity to public officials or private sector entities such as banks.

But the mandatory nature of the original supporting register has caused concern in the community and some people are worried about the digital nature of the proposed project.

“There has been a fundamental concern coming from individuals who don’t want to be in the register in the first place,” Minister Ebanks said when he appeared Monday on Radio Cayman’s For the Record. “They would like the freedom of choice, and that’s understandable.”

He said that over the last week or so, he and his team have been listening to those concerns, and a decision had been made that the register would also be optional. “This will give those people enough lead time that they will need… to give people a choice and allow it to happen organically,” he said. Ebanks added that he hoped this would see the register evolve organically and people would eventually sign up through choice rather than being compelled.

All it requires to change the original compulsory register to a voluntary one is to change the wording in the bills that states everyone “shall be registered” to everyone “may be registered.” As a result, the proposed legislation is now expected to be changed at the committee stage when legislators meet in parliament next week, making the whole of the programme completely voluntary.

Ebanks also confirmed that no one would be refused service by a government entity because they do not have a card. He explained that a clause in the bill referring to international obligations and information sharing would be completely removed as it was unnecessary and had been misunderstood. He said the data held on people signed up for the register and the card would be held by the government here in the Cayman Islands and not by the private sector or any overseas agencies. The registrar will also be a civil servant.

Another key amendment refers to potential increases in basic data held on the register of those that have signed up, as people transition to doing more and more online. The bills currently allow that to be increased via regulations. But Ebanks said he would be proposing to his colleagues that this be amended to require a change to the law via parliament if any future government wants to add to the basic data criteria from the current provision for name, date of birth, gender and status.

In most cases, that information is already held by numerous government entities. There are very few people in Cayman that do not have their name, date of birth, gender and status held by some government department. Many will also have much more information than that held by numerous public sector agencies, from Cayman Airways to the Needs Assessment Unit.

WORC holds the most significant amount of data on everyone who has gone through the immigration or work permit system, including Caymanian employers who have applied for a permit. It also holds everyone’s travel records. The Department of Vehicle and Drivers’ Licensing holds basic information and addresses of every driver and vehicle owner, while the Health Services Authority also holds the same basic information along with personal medical records of anyone who has ever paid a visit to the hospital or district clinic.

Nevertheless, the decision to introduce the nationwide ID programme has divided the community. Some do not trust the government to hold another information register, while others feel the project is well overdue as it will solve a whole host of current verification issues, making it much easier to do business with the government online.

Despite these planned amendments, the opposition has asked for the bill to be pulled, even though it was the last PPM-led administration that had moved the project forward. Deputy Opposition Leader Joseph Hew had presided over the procurement process to find the technology to implement the programme in January 2021.

Opposition Leader Roy McTaggart has requested the bills be withdrawn from the parliamentary agenda next week to allow more time for public consultation. He said he has written to the minister to ask for more time because, despite the government’s attempts to educate the public, the concerns are not going away.

Some public concerns arise due to misunderstanding, but some are valid and need attention,” he said. “Given the importance of these bills, the government should allow an extended public consultation period. My colleagues in the opposition also share that view. An extended public consultation period will help ensure that all valid concerns are aired and considered. It can also allow the public to become more familiar with and understand the purpose and benefits of both pieces of legislation.”

The opposition leader said the success of this project depends on getting it as right as possible at the start and ensuring the public trust in both the register and the ID cards.

As of Wednesday afternoon, there had been no indication from the minister that the bills will be withdrawn as he believes the necessary changes to alleviate any further concerns can be handled through the committee stage. However, if the bill passes, there are plans for further public education about the legislation and the system before it is implemented

The public has until next Tuesday evening to submit further comments about the legislation to the ministry or their MP.

See the bills and the ministry’s briefing about the bills in the CNS Library.

See Ebanks and his ministry team on Radio Cayman below:

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Category: Laws, Policy, Politics

Comments (141)

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  1. Anonymous says:

    The same people who don’t want to be a part of the programme will be the same ones wanting all the benefits. This is another example of the dead weight in our communities holding back national progress. They’d rather sign up for a free somke pan and a chance to return to 1950. Young people need to register to vote otherwise tech policy will continue to be influenced by a very out-of-touch bunch.


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