Don’t be a Luddite

Those who oppose a national ID system need to join the modern world. We are past the point where personal privacy was a given. Just look at Facebook, where people are disclosing intimacies they’d never have thought of exposing a scant decade ago. Companies are acquiring more details of your life than were ever needed before. Credit cards have been with us a long while now, yet to get one you need to give details you’d never offer a stranger.

What’s new about a national ID (NID)? The government already has much of the information: your birth certificate, marriage license, driver’s license, SSS card, PhilHealth card, passport, and voter’s ID, even credit card data once these are brought into the system. It’s all there already. So what’s to fear? That the SSS will know the state of your health? No, it won’t. Because the NID won’t allow the SSS to access your health data, and vice versa. The NID will only allow disclosure of information relevant to the requirement.

The beauty of it is that whatever transaction you undertake with the government will become a smooth, coordinated, quick process. The bureaucratic beast will be slain. It could even extend to private-to-private activities later, as the internet system engulfs us all. Buy 3-in-1 in a sari-sari store, the owner takes your picture on her cell phone, and payment transfers automatically from you to her.

If the NID is properly designed you won’t even need one card; you won’t need any. That’s what India recognized, being at the forefront of ICT (information and communications technology) these days (why aren’t we?). India has introduced a NID called Aadhaar (meaning foundation), where biometrics does it all. A camera reads your iris or facial features to confirm who you are and transmits it to a computer. And that computer can be a smartphone. And you transact. No card at all, just you. Think what a boon that would be to rural folk.

Walk into a hospital and instantly the staff will know who you are, what’s likely wrong with you, and what to do — a world of magic created by science that’s available today.

So the bills in Congress and the executive order being drafted by the administration need a careful rethink. They require a card; you don’t need one. This is a perfect example of what I argued for Uber and Grab. The LTFRB needs to adapt to them, not them to a horse-and-buggy law. They should not be constrained by a Luddite law. We must design a government for the future, not the past.

The IT revolution can’t be halted anymore than the industrial one could. Only Luddites ride horses and carriages these days (oh, and the British Queen, on occasion). The smartphone has broken down all barriers. The internet has brought change that can’t be stopped. So we have little choice but to accept it and ensure it’s properly used.

You’ll still need a separate passport until the whole world has gone smart, as I predict it will. One day there’ll be no long lines at immigration, just a biometric analyzer. You’ll breeze through. Worldwide system compatibility will be the key to that—difficult, but not impossible.

The President is considering introducing an NID through an executive order. That might make sense from a tactical perspective, but the reality is that it needs to be institutionalized by law. There’s really no political or social issue here as the only people who’d oppose it are the Left, who oppose anything. But it should be followed up by a law to institutionalize it.

An NID is a technical issue. It’s all about how to do it. That needs more study. A cardless system is new so it should be studied well before introduction. Let’s be a world leader not a laggard, again. So it’s good that a team composed of representatives of relevant agencies visited India just recently. It will be interesting to get feedback.

As Harvard Prof. Margo Seltzer said at the 2015 World Economic Forum, “Privacy as we knew it in the past is no longer feasible… How we conventionally think of privacy is dead.” So we are past the point of halting data collection in any meaningful way. Let’s just make sure we use it properly.

Society is changing massively, overwhelmingly driven by the “internet of things.” Technology is revolutionizing our lives at breathtaking speed. We’ve an ever more interrelated, interconnected world. A cardless national ID is the way to go

There’s no turning back.

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