Hopes and worries over national ID
President Duterte signed on Monday Republic Act No. 11055, instituting a unified national ID system.
Muntinlupa Rep. Ruffy Biazon, one of the law’s proponents, described the new ID system as a “principal tool of governance” that will cut red tape, prevent corruption in public transactions and increase government efficiency by using more accurate demographics in providing social services.
A limited version of the ID system already exists in the form of the Umid (unified multipurpose identification) card, passed during the administration of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. The card serves as a single identification tool for members of SSS, GSIS, PhilHealth and Pag-IBIG; it is also accepted for other transactions serving the purpose of a national ID.
However, the Umid card only covers 20 percent of the 101-million population of the Philippines.
The newly signed Philippine Identification System Act aims to correct this by creating a single government-issued identification card called PhilID that all citizens and resident aliens in the Philippines can use in all transactions, whether with government institutions or private companies, requiring such an official identification document.
The PhilID will assign a unique, randomly generated and permanent number to every Filipino and resident alien registering in the system.
It’s not mandatory to register for the PhilID, but those who do (free of charge) will have their personal details collected, such as full name, gender, blood type, date and place of birth, marital status and photo.
Other personal data, such as mobile number and email address (optional), and biometrics data that include a full set of fingerprints, facial image and iris scan, will be stored in the Philippine ID System, or PhilSys, a centralized database established by the law to house all vital information generated by the system.
PhilSys will be managed and safeguarded by the Philippine Statistics Authority.
A budget of P2 billion has been allotted for the initial implementation of the national ID system.
Proponents have hailed it as a crucial, long-delayed reform that would help streamline government services and make it easier for ordinary citizens and businesses to transact with public agencies, while also making it more difficult to commit fraud and identity theft.
Before this, the Philippines had been one of the few remaining countries without a national ID system.
However, various quarters, while recognizing the beneficial aspects of the new ID law, have also expressed strong concerns about it.
They specifically point to its potential to violate the privacy rights of citizens, the possibility of a data security breach (as what happened with the hacking of the Commission on Elections’ database in March 2016 that compromised the personal data of around 55 million registered voters—the biggest such private data leak in the Philippines’ history), and the danger that the system could be used as means of repression by the state against political dissenters.
Particularly problematic is the inclusion of a “record history” detailing when and where the ID has been used, both in public and private transactions, according to a statement by the Computer Professionals’ Union.
That record history could serve as a “virtual tracker” assembling a “treasure trove” of information for data-hungry individuals and entities, “especially as data is becoming a very lucrative venture that earns billions for the private sector… Its misuse, abuse and leaks will have grave impacts on our privacy and security,” warned the Union.
During plenary debates at the House of Representatives, Gabriela Rep. Emmi de Jesus also raised the alarm about the national ID system being put in place at this time, “… in the context of the nonstop extrajudicial killings among peasants, political activists, indigenous peoples, and even the current controversial murder of poor Filipinos in the name of the war on drugs.”
At the root of this debate is trust: Can the public trust that the government will use the data it collects on its citizens ethically and properly—only as mandated by the law, and not as a tool for abuse, control and harassment?
Even more basically, can it safeguard such data?
The Comelec breach, for which not one conviction has yet materialized, provides a cause for worry; Filipinos can only hope the Duterte administration’s touted safeguards for the national ID system will prove to be more than up to the task.
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