Cybersecurity: Hefty fines, jail time as Govt irons out privacy laws

The content originally appeared on: INews Guyana
Vice President Dr Bharrat Jagdeo

As the Guyana Government moves to shift to a paperless economy, efforts are currently underway to develop privacy laws that enhance the country’s cybersecurity infrastructure.

This is according to Vice President Bharrat Jagdeo during a press conference on Thursday. He said a lot of work has to be done to build a national Cybersecurity Master Plan. That master plan, according to Jagdeo, will have several components including the development of specific sectors that will bring a big impact.

In fact, works are already underway at the Ministry of Home Affairs to automate the services there. An assessment was recently completed at all the agencies under the Ministry with the aim of simplifying and automating their processes.

Another major initiative under this programme is the electronic identification card (e-ID card) project that the Government is pursuing. This will see the biometric data of each citizen being compiled into an e-ID card that will be used for a host of transactions and services.

“We just [signed] the contract to do the ID card with full biometrics that would allow us to develop a whole range of functions and applications from deepening financial reforms to getting better Government services, e-governance based on the database that we will create here,” the Vice President stated.

The US$35.4 million contract with German-based company, Veridos Identity Solutions, was inked last month. In addition to increasing the ease of doing business, the e-ID card will also allow the Government to monitor migrants in Guyana. It will also have internationally-recognised features that will be accepted by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) for international travel.

This will tie into the Government’s plans to make Guyana’s airports paperless, using the biometrics from the e-ID card for citizens as well as efforts to boost local security by expanding the Safe City initiative countrywide.

“…The biometrics from the ID programme will feed into the security cameras that are being put across the country. We have a Safe City programme, now we’re doing, a safe country programme. So, you’re gonna have cameras across the country with facial recognition,” he explained.

In light of these initiatives, VP Jagdeo underscored the need for separate legislation to govern the use of the e-ID cards and this includes the relevant privacy laws being in place to protect citizens’ personal data.

“So, we have to do a number of things. We have to go to the Parliament with laws on privacy – they’re being drafted now – that will be giving effect so that the data will be protected and any disclosure of private data, there’d be serious penalties.”

“If you unauthorisedly use the data… you’ll face a hefty fine and a jail term. You can’t be utilising the private data [of others] for that purpose,” the Vice President noted.

Similarly, the privacy of citizens’ medical information will be a top priority as the Government seeks to implement its “one-chart” initiative. This programme will consolidate persons’ medical history onto a shared database that can be accessed by authorised medical institutions – both private and public.

“They will just type in your name or your code and then all your records will come up. So, you can go abroad, you can go here and you will have your whole medical history there and it helps us to do a lot more paperless work. You don’t want anyone to disclose that information because it’s people’s private information.”

“Many countries have privacy laws. So, we’re working now on those being in place even before we even complete the survey and start issuing the e-ID cards or we start using in a major way, the biometrics, for security purposes and stuff that like,” Jagdeo stressed.

He further outlined that these electronic ID cards will be separate from the ID cards that are being used/issued by the Guyana Elections Commission since the Government does not want to be accused of taking over GECOM’s functions.

“So, we’re mapping all of the processes across Government where people – the public – interfaces with the Government to automate them. So, a lot of work is being done on the Cyber Master Plan to take our country into a new era but along with all of this, cybersecurity will become more important… If Government operates entirely online, we have to build a cybersecurity capability so that we can protect this cyberinfrastructure that we have. So, it’s a lot of work at the policy level to get that done in Government,” VP Jagdeo stated.

Only earlier this week, Attorney General and Legal Affairs Minister, Anil Nandlall, SC, defended the Government’s decision to sole-source the contract for the provision of the electronic ID card, citing security concerns.

“These are not contracts that can go into open tendering. They involve matters of social security; they involve national documents that require protective mechanisms that you can’t go on the open market to compete for… That is how it is done all over the world. [Have] You ever seen a Government advertise publicly to buy passports? …We have complied with the Procurement Act in respect of these types of services,” the Attorney General argued.

At last month’s contract signing, President Dr Irfaan Ali had emphasised the e-ID cards will be one of the most technologically advanced and will deliver Government services through the introduction of e-health, e-education, e-security, e-agriculture, and licence processing among other initiatives.