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Opinions of Tuesday, 4 September 2007

Columnist: Adu, Ernest Kofi

Reliable Data Is Next

THERE IS no doubt that over the past decade vast improvements in technology have distinctively impacted on our daily lives both at home and at work nationwide, making the sharing of information and communication convenient and easy.

Equally, there is no gainsaying that the use of computers has become indispensable tool in this era of Information Communication Technology (ICT), changing our everyday activities, and the Ghanaian society is becoming an information-oriented one.

The ability to shop, pay bills, send information (or data), participate in online courses (distant education) or discussions, and look up for vast amounts of information 24 hours, 7 days a week, and 365 days a year through the internet is a huge expediency. Many of us – governmental agencies, media, businesses, private individuals – also depend on having fast and easy access to information, rapid communication and instant messaging.

The benefits of an increased automation of everyday activities, such as shopping, banking and communication, are numerous, but cannot be realized in full in the absence of reliable data.

In spite of its crucial role in the public policy making process in Ghana, information is generally in short supply and often unreliable. This partially explains why the fundamental objectives of the Directive Principles of State Policy, which we Ghanaians expect institutions like the Presidency, Parliament, Judiciary and indeed, agencies such as the Police, the Armed Forces and the likes to strive to achieve for the establishment of a just and free society, have not been met yet.. The National Identification System (NIS), a multi-purpose national database, set up to collect, hold and provide accurate and comprehensive personal information on all Ghanaian citizens and legally permanent non-Ghanaians in the country comes to offer the solution needed.

HOW DOES THE NIS WORK?

It has three distinct steps for its functioning: first, everybody in the country above the age of 6 years will be registered. During the registration process personal information, signature, fingerprint and photograph will be taken digitally using computer equipment called Mobile Registration Workstation MRW). Second, all the information taken will be processed to establish individual identities and randomly the NIS will generate unique personal identification numbers, which will be assigned to each individual for life.

The third stage is the issuance of ID Cards to every person aged15 years and above on condition that the information provided during registration is accepted into the database as valid.

SECURITY OF THE DATA

Even though the NIS will help improve the criminal justice system of the country, especially crime control, by my understanding, it is not meant for it to be used by security operatives to harass anybody. The Executive Secretary, Professor Ernest Dumor (my namesake) has given the assurance that the data would be strictly protected and access to it will be provided on a right-to-know-and-use basis, henceforth, the data protection regulation under preparation to safeguard personal information of citizens.

Only authorized officers shall have access to the data and such access, I am told, shall be controlled and monitored. In other words, not every piece of information will be made available to officers who have access to the register. Transmission of information from one point to another will be simplified so each person sending/receiving a piece of information shall be able to identify the destination/source of the information. Isn’t that a piece of good news?

In anticipation of breach of internal security regulations, the National Identification Authority has prepared Corporate Security Guidelines which clearly outline various sanctions to be applied to people who will flout these guidelines.

Fellow Ghanaians, habour no fears in the area of preservation and maintenance since the authority has made provisions for the tracking, backup, and security of the database with the use of the state-of-the art technologies.

PLATFORM FOR CROSS-REFERRENCES

Geared towards making Ghana an information-oriented society, the system has been designed with flexibility and openness to allow for external connection to agencies like Births and Deaths Registry, Ghana Immigration Service, Electoral Commission, Passport Office, DVLA among others.

Theses organizations will be allowed, under specific administrative and legal guidelines, to access data from the national database for cross-checks and cross-references. The NIS is ready to roll out sooner than later. What the authority is currently waiting for is 1,510 of the MRW to start the mass registration exercise throughout the country, which software customization, effectiveness and technical challenges had been tested in two communities in the Greater Accra Region.

CONCLUSION

It is our responsibility to make this happened if we want to reap the full benefit of ICT and the accompanying advantages. Again, the biggest challenge to a comprehensive national development and planning is the lack of reliable data that captures baseline socio-economic conditions and indicators. Day after day, statistics and data are disputed, clashed and rejected by political parties, state agencies, research institutions and many others. What we need to do as a country is to have one credible, reliable and comprehensive data registry to improve public service delivery and electoral process, reduce corruption and fraud, and provide a secured basis for social facilities, as well change behaviour and attitude of transacting business.

The writer, adu_kofi79@yahoo.com, is a journalist The Chronicle newspaper and ardent exponent of democratic governance and human rights

Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.