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PACT PUSHES AHEAD WITH ID CARDS

Government 20 Dec, 2022 Follow News

PACT PUSHES AHEAD WITH ID CARDS

By the summer of 2023 a national digital ID card for the Cayman Islands is expected to be in place alongside a voluntary registry.

After lengthy debate in Parliament, the law for the introduction of the ID system and the accompanying legislation for setting up the registry was passed with a PACT government majority supported by MP for West Bay McKeeva Bush. The opposition Progressives voted against citing the government’s refusal to delay the law and refer it for more public consultation.

Presenting what were described as the two ground-breaking measures, Hon. Minister for Financial Services & Commerce, Investment, Innovation & Social Development, Andre Ebanks, set out to allay fears mainly over data protection and confidentiality assuring that robust controls were built-in.

It was acknowledged that the concept for the national ID card system, initiated by the previous Progressives administration, had been under consideration for quite some time but had become even more of a pressing requirement in the digital age, especially in the financial industry which underpins Cayman’s economy.

Min. Ebanks pointed out that much of the information required for the ID card and registry was already held in various government ministries which would now be accessible in the new system, but with extensive data security safeguards. Another advantage he said is that it would eliminate the need for volumes of documentation from a variety of departments. There are severe penalties for misuse or otherwise breaching the system including fines of up to CI$20,000 and four years in prison.

He rejected the calls for delay, saying adequate consultation had been undertaken and some views could not be changed.

“The request for time (the withdrawal of the bill) might not achieve what some think, or worse, might lead to further public confusion. There are folks of all walks of life who’ve come up to me and said ‘Minister, the accommodation that you’re proposing in the legislation should be able to alleviate the doubts ad concerns and give those who do not want to join at this time, to give the ample time to decide if they want to join but don’t stop for those who want it and see the vision of it now.”

Min. Ebanks said further public consultation was hardly likely to change the views of those people whose views were already entrenched.

OPPOSITION OBJECTIONS

But the opposition Progressives maintain that there are still concerns about some aspects of the system which warrant further public consultation.

Hon. Deputy Opposition Leader Joey Hew, who was at the forefront of developing the original concept bill during the Progressives government, called on the PACT administration to withdraw the bill in its current form.

“The provisions of the bill, which to be very honest the minister (Ebanks) spoke to some of the amendments actually covers some of the concerns, but we still feel on this side that the bill should be withdrawn and proper public consultation should happen, because I agree with the minister, this bill is too important to the future of this country and to its people. It’s ground-breaking, it will set the platform for future development in our financial services, and it will make life easier for our people.”

Mr Hew, the previous Minister of Commerce, said it would be regrettable if such an important piece of legislation was filed away after passage and rendered ineffective because the government failed to address valid concerns.

Former Progressives Premier, and Hon. MP for Red Bay, Sir Alden McLaughlin is in favour of the ID card and registry but also questions the haste with which the PACT government was proceeding with it, which he feels is counterproductive.

“I think we all understand the critical importance and the benefits that having a national ID will bring to a whole range of experiences which the average person living and working in Cayman - not just Caymanians - have to deal with.” Among those, he said, is the discrepancy where naturalised Caymanians have a single identification document but born Caymanians must present numerous pieces of information to prove their status.

Sir Alden who was also at the forefront of previous efforts to introduce digital ID cards, said there were still several issues surrounding the system which need to be resolved before putting it in place.

“Conceptually, we have no difficulty with what’s being proposed,” he said, but added: “I do not believe that due regard is being paid by the government to concerns which are being expressed, increasingly various sectors of the community including the legal fraternity.”

Hon. MP Moses Kirkconnell (Progressives) also implored the PACT government to delay the introduction and extend the consultation period for at least another two to three months.

Mr Kirkconnell cited a letter sent by the leader of the Progressive’s opposition, Roy McTaggart, to the government in late November urging to delay the bill. He also read an extract from correspondence seen by the Opposition of one company’s concerns on behalf of its clients and seeking public disclosure and discussion of amendments the government was considering

“This letter is was extremely important,” he stated. “It registers the level of interest and concern from the community that it has moved to another level of concern with a large form representing a client that is concerned about the legislation.”

PACT: TIMELY AND NECESSARY

Speaking in support of the joint bills for the digital ID card and registry, Hon. Deputy Governor, Franz Manderson said he was pleased that the system was finally being implemented.

“I am pleased that it will finally come to fruition”, he said, describing it as “ “necessary to create the foundation for a high standard of customer service affording transparency and accountability that complies with a robust Data Protection Act and enables the government to adapt in tandem with the development of widely used technology.”

Mr Manderson recalled a situation in which the vast majority of Caymanians who had turned out for a job fair, had no form of ID to verify who they were, which also caused major challenges in even setting bank accounts for them.

Hon. Minister of Finance, Chris Saunders, acknowledged the role of the previous Progressives administration in setting the stage for the introduction of a national ID card and registry system. But he countered the reservations of the Opposition by saying that with the system due to come on stream by July next year, there is adequate time to make adjustments and amendments as necessary after the law is passed.

“At the end of the day, we have to get started at some point. We have to get started. At least passing this now gives us the green light to start moving to the next stages where we can start the implementation process,” he reasoned.

Hon. Attorney General, Samuel Bulgin, assured that human rights and data protection were guaranteed in the legislation and also pointed out that the previous plan for mandatory registration had been withdrawn with the public now having the choice to participate voluntarily.

“The real issue is if there is any sort of fundamental defect in the legislation itself. We examined it from the human rights perspective and we haven’t been able to find any fundamental problems with privacy or any of those other rights that would have been (affected) by the legislation,” he outlined, stressing that the system is voluntary. “Persons will have the choice to opt-in if they want to…From a privacy and a human rights standpoint, the legislation meets all those tests.”

Hon. Premier Wayne Panton defended his PACT coalition government’s move to press ahead with what he called ‘an excellent piece of legislation’.

According to Premier Panton, the benefits will become obvious very soon and he will be among the first to sign up.

“Before this thing is completely rolled out you’ll have people recognising the increasing value of it, and I think the ministry will be even more busy than they anticipate because they are going to get a lot of people participating. I want to be one of the first ones,” Premier Panton stated.


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