Baseless fears on a national ID
The two-decade-old plan to establish a national identification system for the Philippines may come to fruition this year.
The Senate approved recently on final reading the proposed Philippine ID system which shall contain the basic demographic and biometric data of every Filipino citizen and resident alien. A similar bill was earlier passed by the House of Representatives with slight differences.
In 1996, then President Fidel Ramos’ efforts to establish that system through an administrative order were declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court on the ground that since the scheme involves the disbursement of public funds, it can be done only through legislation.
In 2006, then President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo made some headway on the same program when the high court upheld the validity of her executive order directing the Social Security System, Government Service Insurance System, PhilHealth and Pag-Ibig Fund to develop a single, unified card for their members.
The high court ruled that Arroyo’s action did not require additional public funding because the government offices concerned already had funds allocated for that purpose.
Under the approved bills, the ID card shall contain the name, address, date and place of birth and biometric data of the cardholder. The Philippine Statistics Authority shall be the repository of the information, and its disclosure can only be done through a court order.
The ID system aims to simplify the identification process in public and private transactions. It would do away with the present practice of establishing a person’s identity through IDs issued by different government offices.
The opposition to the ID system revolves principally on its alleged violation of a person’s right to privacy and the apprehension that the information gathered can be used to harass or persecute the cardholder.
Privacy? What secrecy of personal information would be violated when from the day a Filipino is born the circumstances of his or her birth are recorded on his or her birth certificate? The same information is given to school authorities when he or she enrolls from the primary grades to the tertiary level.
The process is repeated as a prerequisite for employment in the private sector or the government and enrollment in the SSS or GSIS, as the case may be.
A Filipino who wants to exercise his or her right of suffrage has to disclose his or her personal information to the Commission on Elections for the issuance of a voter’s ID. The same thing happens in applications for a driver’s license with the Land Transportation Office or a passport with the Department of Foreign Affairs.
In other words, the basic information about a Filipino — name, date and place of birth, residence and parentage (or the same data that will be collated in the proposed national ID system) — is stored somewhere in a document that is on file with some government office.
Thus, other than the designation of a single government agency that would be responsible for the collation and storage of those facts and figures, nothing new will be introduced by the national ID system.
The advantage of the new arrangement is the creation of a centralized database that can expedite the verification of identity claims or resolution of identification issues in public and private activities. Toward this end, it is essential that the ID cards issued are tamper-proof or contain features that protect their integrity.
Like any other information gathered by government offices, the data collated for the ID system could find their way into the wrong hands or may be susceptible to misuse, more so in these times when computer hacking for ransom and other unlawful purposes has become prevalent.
But the fear of any of those events happening does not justify giving up the plan to establish a national ID system. The advantages of implementing that project outweigh its perceived disadvantages, if any.
The government can learn from the experience of our neighboring countries with national ID systems in making the proposed ID system accomplish the purpose for which it is being adopted.
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