The NIDS debate: Myths Debunked

Happy new year to all, and welcome back! We’re kicking off the New Year with some analysis of a topic that was on the lips of many Jamaicans a few months ago.

nids

At the end of last year, the Jamaican government concluded discussions and passed the National Identification and Registration Act (commonly referred to as NIDS). During the discussions, there were a number of legitimate (and some not so legitimate) concerns surrounding the bill, in particular surrounding the collection of biometric data by the government as identification parameters in the system. Some of the crazier theories included the belief that NIDS will be the “mark of the beast”, or that the government was going to use DNA collected from citizens to plant at crime scenes to frame and imprison them. Go figure.

So today, we’re going to debunk some of these myths, and allay some of the fears that will surely accompany the rollout of the NIDS system in 2019.

Disclaimer: While I understand that there are legitimate concerns surrounding accountability and security of personal information collected during the process, this post will only be focusing on exploring the scientific purview of the bill, in particular, biometric data. I won’t be attempting to address the alarms outside of this scope.

What is Biometric Data?

Let’s start by breaking down this term “biometric data”.  This is a general term that is used to refer to any computer data that is created from any kind of body measurement, calculation or characteristic. This can be anything from fingerprints, facial and iris recognition, palm prints, DNA and biological samples, and even body odour!biometrics

Biometric identification has emerged as one of the most secure forms of identification because it takes advantage of features that are unique to individuals, and therefore extremely hard to replicate. (I know we’ve all seen those spy movies where someone beats the system by killing someone and stealing their eyes or fingers to use on the scanner, but it’s probably a safe bet to say this is an unlikely everyday situation).

Biometrics have been integrated into security and technology for quite a while now, just think about the fingerprint scanner or facial recognition software on your phone.

So is the government trying to “Big Brother” us?

Now, I think it’s a good time to distinguish exactly what information will be collected for the NIDS database.  In addition to biographical, demographic and reference information (see schedule 3 on page 55 for more information on these), a number of biometric parameters will also be included.

In the act, biometric information is separated into 3 categories:

  1. Core Biometric information (will be included for everyone)
  • Photograph or facial image
  • Fingerprint
  • Eye colour
  • Manual Signature
  1. Core Biometric information (may/may not be included)
  • Retina/iris scan
  • Vein pattern (from the palm)
  • If none of these are possible: foot print/toe print/palm prints may also be taken
  1. Other Biometric Information (may/may not be included)
  • Any distinguishing physical feature
  • Blood type

Although I won’t be addressing concerns outside of the scientific, it is important to note that most of this information is very personal and sensitive, and it is crucial that the respective authorities are able to properly secure the database and who has access to it.

Myth #1: The police wants to frame you with your DNA sample

dnaAs you can clearly see from the list presented, the government will definitely not be collecting DNA samples from the entire population. This is in fact, extremely unfeasible, as the cost for DNA sample and STR analysis would run taxpayers somewhere between 150-250USD per person. You can do the math.

 A popular misconception (probably fuelled by CSI, Law & Order, NCIS, and all the rest) is that all a DNA test requires is a swab and a plastic bag. The truth is, even if the government is able to collect these samples, the process and cost to analyze each of these would render the entire activity completely useless. You can read this post on the DNA Evidence Act for more information on the collection of DNA samples in Jamaica.

Additionally, another misconception is that it’s super easy to steal a Q-tip with a DNA sample and somehow plant it at a crime scene to frame someone (Again, I blame TV for this one). While in truth, it has been proven possible to fabricate and plant DNA evidence, the cost and resources required to do this are far beyond the scope of the Jamaican police force (No offense to my awesome friends and family at the Forensics Department =) ). It simply wouldn’t make any financial or logical sense to do so. swab

You may argue that your very rich enemy who owns a state of the art lab and really wants you to go to jail would be able to do so, but again…reality check? To alleviate these concerns, we definitely should be taking a closer look at who would have access to a DNA database, but as we’ve already established…

There is no DNA sample required for NIDS registration.

The Act also includes that your Blood Type information may be recorded in the database. While Blood Type information is a great thing to have on record, and can help narrow down suspects/missing persons, it is hardly specific enough to single out any one person based on just their blood type. There are probably 1000s of other Jamaicans with the same blood type as you, so relax. The Act says NOTHING about collecting your blood sample, so you can probably stop worrying that someone will be extracting your DNA from your blood to frame you for that robbery last week.

blood types
A look at the average distribution of blood types shows how common your blood type really is.

Myth #2: The NIDS is the mark of the Beast

I’m not sure where to start with this one, as I’m pretty sure this goes beyond my scientific knowledge into the world of theology and religion.

If you’re unfamiliar with the Christian book of Revelations, chapter 13 verses 16 and 17 refer to the mark of the beast as a symbol of the end-times:

“And he causeth all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and bond, to receive a mark in their right hand, or in their foreheads:

And that no man might buy or sell, save he that had the mark, or the name of the beast, or the number of his name.”

mark of the beastA number of theories have floated around the world about the form this mark will take. Some movies have portrayed a post-apocalyptic world where everyone is required to have a computer chip implanted in them, some believe that a number will be branded onto everyone. Apparently, this same hysteria has been extended to the NIDS system.

This belief is based on the fact that citizens will be required to have NIDS identification number in order to conduct government business. Bishop Dr Rohan Edwards of the Lighthouse Ministries in Spanish Town explains by saying:

“There is some resemblance as to what the Word of God says in Revelation, Chapter 13, that speaks of the anti-Christ that will mark everyone with the Mark of the Beast. We know that it is speeding up the whole aspect of the Mark of the Beast where every nation have to come in line.”

Um…Ok.

The truth is, the NIDS will operate like every other registration system that requires a number. Your passport, TRN, Voters ID, Drivers’ License all have registration numbers. The NIDS simply aims to be a centralized identification system to streamline identification across business places. Sounds pretty reasonable to me.

So no, the NIDS is probably not the Mark of the Beast, however, if you’re still sceptical about it, you still have the option to not get one, and pay the associated fees for not using it.

So can we just relax a little now?

Well, I’d sure hope so. While we definitely shouldn’t forget that proper accountability and security is still paramount to the rollout of the system, we can definitely take some of the conspiracy theories out of our heads. If you have questions, I’d definitely recommend a read of the Act to everyone.

What are your thoughts on the National Identification and Registration Act? Tell us in the comments section below. And be sure to share this post with your friends and family who may have questions of their own!

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