A privacy and data protection act is to be tabled in Jamaica in the next three months. Andrew Wheatley, the government minister responsible for technology, made the disclosure via the Jamaica Information Service website recently.
This is the third such public announcement by the Minister in five months (See here and here). Presumably, therefore, there is substance to the minister’s statement.
The importance of privacy and data protection legislation cannot be underscored enough. Only this morning, the Jamaica Gleaner ran a story highlighting a significant data breach involving the confidential information of students at 16 high schools in Jamaica. Unfortunately, as there is no legislation in place, there is currently no allocation of privacy-related rights and obligations among the various actors involved in that incident.
Privacy and data protection legislation is also important in the context of a nation’s digital-era development. It is accepted that trust is a critical component in developing a domestic digital economy, since people tend to only engage in e-commerce where there is a high level of trust.
The presence of a statutory privacy safeguard, such as a privacy act, is critical to developing trust among users of the internet. Those users will more likely trust that their data will not be mishandled and, importantly, that they can have recourse in the event of a breach. Therefore, when local entrepreneurs provide services for pay to local consumers in Jamaica, those consumers are more likely to purchase the offerings. The more local goods and services purchased online, the more the domestic digital economy develops.
Only this week, UNCTAD referenced research indicating that “Internet users are increasingly concerned about their online privacy, and that 49 percent of users polled say lack of trust is their main reason for not shopping online ”.
Jamaica is not starting from scratch where privacy legislation is concerned. Its Constitution was recently amended to more expressly secure the individual’s right to privacy at section 13(3)(j) of the Charter of Rights. However, it was always known that this was insufficient since the Charter of Rights’ provisions are next to impossible to enforce against non-state actors. A specialist act that covers privacy and data protection was still necessary since it would, at a minimum, extend privacy protection to cover abuses by non-state actors, including other private citizens and commercial entities. Additionally, a substantive privacy act will likely outline in detail: the privacy rights being afforded to individuals; the reasonable limitations on those rights; and the responsibilities of those who collect and store the private information of others.
Minister Wheatley, perhaps, has these considerations in mind since he indicated that the proposed legislation will:
“…govern the collection, regulation, processing, keeping, use and disclosure of certain information in physical or electronic form.
The legislation will seek to set out the rights of the individual, with respect to their personal data. This will include, for example, the right to confirm whether or not personal information or data is being processed by an organisation.”
The sooner Jamaica passes comprehensive privacy and data protection legislation, the sooner its citizens can be offered true privacy protection. Importantly too, a domestic digital economy will edge that much closer to reality.