N Touch
Wednesday 16 October 2019
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Turning a sane person mad

It happened again. The annoying, unjustified demand to copy my ID, three times in one day, all in financial institutions. The totally unnecessary 1.5-hour wait in a major bank to complete a transaction that took all of two minutes, the general unhelpfulness and even rudeness of that bank’s staff, the lack of care by personnel afflicted by deep resentment almost anywhere you seek a service.

The last time I wrote about the plague of being hounded for forms of proof of ID that have been issued either as evidence of abode for voting (incorrectly described as national ID), or proof of age and address in order to drive (driver’s permit), or of nationality to travel abroad (passport) and which, strictly speaking, I am not legally bound to show to a bank teller, I received some interesting feedback.

A few people understand that we should insist upon the right not to use those IDs to reveal such personal information, simply because we do not know what is done with the information, irrespective of the fact that we might reason why it is being sought. Yet it has become so very commonplace that unthinking citizens just accept it and believe that it is in order, when it really is an infringement of our right to privacy when we have nothing to gain from revealing those facts about ourselves.

That is the important point. It cannot be a one-way street.

In countries which have national IDs, citizens use them to receive streamlined online services provided by the State, which makes proving that an individual is the rightful beneficiary important, such as health and pensions, tax services, requests for national certificates (birth, etc). Each person gets an individual PIN number and the card can issue a legally recognised signature, so the card is useful to the cardholder.

A national insurance number in the UK, where no ID card exists, suffices as ID because it and other citizens' records are processed into a central ID authentication system and you are tracked quite easily. It may be a long way away but if the government of this country sought to introduce a proper national ID card, the people should demand all the benefits that should accrue. It has to be a trade-off.

What we have are arbitrary forms of very personal information which are not linked to or stored in a TT national register where the data would be useful for purposes of national security or provision of services.

We should note that DP’s and electoral cards have no specific identifiers other than a facial image – no fingerprint or past addresses, no national insurance or social security number or pension number either.

Many countries believe that ID cards are necessary in order to combat illegal immigration, welfare fraud, terrorism, money laundering and identity fraud, and that may be the same here but in TT the random cards are just photocopied endlessly, clipped to the transaction paperwork and filed. If I wanted to remember how I looked ten or 15 years ago, and every year since, and had no personal photos, at least I could ask my bank to remind me, except they would refuse!

So I live frustrated by that particular personal infringement, but it paled last week during the 2019 prison debate that took place between prison officers and their clients at PoS City Hall. The prisoners won, as they were better prepared and were defending the argument that every creed and race find an equal place in TT. It was ironic that prisoners should defend the State, since three or four of the debaters were on remand: one of them had waited 11 years before getting a chance to have his day in court. If you are convicted, the remand years reduce the sentence, but what if you are found innocent? How can the State restore lives after long periods of unjust incarceration? That is an unforgivable offence against a person, and we must demand that our parliamentarians lead the charge to stop this abuse.

Preliminary enquiries are being abandoned, but the sensible suggestion that no-jury trials be introduced in criminal cases in order to help uncork the horrendous bottleneck of well over 10,000 cases pending trial seems to be less popular. Jury-less trials may not be the total answer, but we must push on all fronts to right the wrong of having over 700 possibly innocent people currently locked up for five-ten years. Is it that we do not trust learned judges to make unilateral decisions? Why might we feel more convinced by unprofessional, emotional jurists being able to decide on one’s guilt or innocence?

Again, it may be just what we are accustomed to, rather than what is fair, practical and transparent. We should put on our thinking caps, fast.

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