National digital ID coming

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The government of Antigua and Barbuda has announced plans to adopt a digital identification system this year to improve delivery of governmental services. This is according to Melford Nicholas, the information technology minister, who was speaking at Thursday’s post-Cabinet media briefing. The announcement comes after last week’s ICT summit for regional leaders which was followed by a symposium for technical officers and other professionals.
According to Nicholas, who is also the president of the Caribbean Telecommunications Union, the heads of government left with a new appreciation of the task before them in moving toward 21st century governance. He added that Antigua and Barbuda has been a bit ahead of its CARICOM neighbours on the digital front and will be taking it to another level this year. “I think by the end of this year we will have the ability to assign a digital identity to each of our citizens [and legal residents] as well as to allow persons to do business with government online by the application and issue of an electronic signature.
“When we do that we will be able to build, as well, a data exchange between the governments to ensure that all agencies of the government have a shared pool of information that would allow us to excite actionable information from the government that will better enable decision making and for planning,” Nicholas said. He added that there will be more automation in the civil registry with tenders already out and two bidders selected for various projects. “I think by the end of the year, all things being equal, we will begin to see the government of Antigua and Barbuda being stitched up in cyberspace, such that whether you’re doing business at intellectual property, at inland revenue, at the lands registry, wherever you’re doing business with the government, the idea of having a digital signature that can be recognised will allow you to be able to facilitate doing better business with the government,” Nicholas said.
The IT minister said it could also benefit the commercial entities, allowing them to do their statutory deductions and payments to the government electronically. According to Nicholas, the digital identity will remain with the individual whether they get married, adopted or change their name by deed poll. “It will have the ability to tie all the other forms of identity into one index. So your passport, your social security, your medical benefits card, your voter’s ID card, will be linked to that index so it means that wherever you go in the system you have a single digital identity.”
However, the minister acknowledged that public concerns about the move are to be expected and he pointed to Jamaica where there have been legislative moves to adopt a similar system which the government here will be looking at closely. “They have come up upon some hurdles and the learning point for us is that the whole idea of disarming any potential for unease in the populace is something that we have to learn on and so I have undertaken to note from Jamaica’s experience that there must be wide levels of consultation and involvement of the regular citizenry such that any potential for mischief making is eliminated.”
According to Nicholas, the benefits far outweigh any concerns that people may have about “Big Brother” – an Orwellian reference for mass surveillance by the government.
(More in today’s Daily Observer)

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