KINGSTON, Jamaica, June 14, 2021 - Government Senator Robert Morgan says safeguarding the personal data of Jamaicans has become paramount in an increasingly digital society, and robust legislation and regulatory frameworks must be put in place to adequately protect that information.
“We must… do all we can to benefit from a digital society, but at the same time, protect ourselves from its challenges,” he said.
Senator Morgan was making his contribution to the debate on the Data Protection Act, 2020, during the sitting of the Senate.
He noted that the Bill, which will enshrine in law, measures to guard the privacy and personal information of Jamaicans “is probably the most important law that we have passed as a country in the last 10 to 15 years.”
The Bill was passed without amendments in the Lower House on May 19.
“It is probably the only Bill that touches every single Jamaican at their most personal level. It touches women, men, children, the healthy, the sick, persons with different abilities – every individual, because your personal information is what defines you in a digital society. Your personal data is what determines your existence or proves your existence in a digital society,” Senator Morgan argued.
He noted that monetisation of personal data is big business and forms the bedrock of social media and technology companies.
These entities, he pointed out, “have your name, your date of birth, your address, in many cases your phone number, pictures, and in some cases family members’ information and other information triangulated based on the friends you have”.
He argued that such private data ending up in the wrong hands could be used to commit cybercrimes, noting that Jamaica lost in excess of $12 billion to cybercrimes in 2016 alone.
Citing statistics from Cybersecurity Ventures, Senator Morgan said it is predicted that cybercrime damages will cost the world $6 trillion annually by 2021, up from $3 trillion in 2015.
As Jamaicans increase their use of the internet, which many access via their mobile devices, Senator Morgan said it has become even more crucial to protect citizens from cyber attacks and other data-related infringements.
Senator Morgan noted that in 2017, a little over 50 per cent of Jamaicans had internet access, which moved from about 27.7 per cent in 2010.
“There are over a million smartphone users in Jamaica right now….it means that not only are Jamaicans engaging with the internet, but they are also engaging with the mobile internet. What that means is that….your smartphone is now constantly with you collecting data about your everyday life. Sixty-four per cent of Jamaicans are on Facebook…about 40 per cent are on Instagram and a little below 10 per cent are on Twitter,” he informed.
Opposition Senator, Sophia Fraser-Binns, in her contribution, said she is in full support of this “game changing piece of legislation,” which comes at a critical time when cybercrime is at an all time high.
“This piece of legislation is really putting in place once and for all a strategic, well thought out framework on how we are going to treat with peoples’ personal information,” she said
Ms. Fraser Binns also called for a public education campaign that will explain to all Jamaicans what the new law will mean for them.
“Let us not drop the ball after this becomes law. What is required is ongoing public education…so that every jack man understands what this means for them because it is not going to be business as usual,” she said.
The debate on the Bill was suspended until the next sitting of the Senate.
Leader of Government Business, Senator the Hon. Kamina Johnson Smith, explained that the suspension was “to ensure that those who wish to share their perspectives have the opportunity to do so.”
She added that the long-awaited Bill, which will play a critical role in the protection of privacy and personal data, including sensitive personal information, is “one of the most important and life changing pieces of legislation that I think, we as Senators, will deal with over our lives in the Senate.”
The Data Protection Bill provides guidelines on how personal data should be collected, processed, stored, used and disclosed in physical or electronic form.
It requires that data should only be obtained for specific lawful purposes, with the consent of the individual, and not to be further used or processed in any way incompatible with the original purpose.
The legislation also stipulates that the data collected must be accurate and, where necessary, kept up to date; must not be held for longer than is necessary for the original purpose; must be protected using appropriate technical and organisational measures; and be disposed of in accordance with the regulations.
The Bill further provides that data must not be transferred to a State or territory outside of Jamaica, unless that State or territory ensures an adequate level of protection of the rights and freedoms of the individual from whom the data has been collected.