On track for a nat’l ID system
The Asian Development Bank noted in a 2016 report that “for nearly two decades, the government of the Philippines has attempted to establish a national ID system. However, these attempts have faced opposition on constitutional and privacy grounds.”
The report was about the unified multipurpose ID (UMID) system that was put in place in 2005 by then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo through an executive order, which required “all government-owned and -controlled corporations to streamline and harmonize their identification systems.” It was a good start to a national ID system but, according to the ADB, still a weak one, since it was merely based on an executive order and not a law from Congress. It also had very limited coverage—less than 8 percent of the population as of 2015. “In the current UMID system, groups such as the self-employed, the unemployed, minors and those working abroad have not been enrolled,” the report pointed out.
Congress has attempted many times to push for a national ID law, only to meet sustained and fierce opposition from privacy advocates and progressive groups who feared that such a system might result in the invasion of privacy and violation of civil liberties and human rights. Supporters of the system, on the other hand, point to its potential benefits: It would streamline government databases and make official transactions more efficient, while sparing citizens the inconvenience and cost of having to carry around multiple IDs. It could also help battle terrorism and crime.
President Fidel Ramos batted for such a system during his term as part of his administration’s security and counterinsurgency measures, but the proposal was disallowed by the Supreme Court in 1998, ruling that it posed a “clear and present danger” that would violate the right to privacy guaranteed by the Constitution.
That long-elusive law now appears closer to becoming a reality with the news that the Senate and the House of Representatives have agreed on a common version of the latest measures to push for a national ID system. Apparently to allay the fears of privacy and human rights advocates, the bicameral version has done away with the House bill’s more detailed information requirements, such as the cardholder’s parents’ names, permanent address, height and weight. The reconciled bill now on track to become law requires only the cardholder’s full name, sex, birthdate, birthplace, address and nationality, as well as biometric information. As reported in this paper: “Besides serving as official proof of identity, the ID card may be presented in requesting social welfare, services and benefits from government agencies, applying for passports and driver’s licenses, opening bank accounts, registering as a voter, and getting admitted to schools and hospitals.”
Still, apprehensions remain. The Makabayan bloc in the House has warned that the bill poses a serious threat to privacy and the right against surveillance. “For a regime that holds a record of criminalizing dissent and silencing vocal critics, this could be an additional arsenal for further espionage and repression,” said Kabataan Rep. Sarah Elago. Added martial law victim and former Commission on Human Rights chair Etta Rosales: “Under more humane conditions where people are free to walk the streets and enjoy the comfort of police protection, I would say ‘yes’ because this facilitates government services to the public. But conditions are not healthy and safe.”
The proposed ID system is said to have included stringent safeguards against, and penalties for, the unwarranted disclosure of private information. But before this measure gets passed and forwarded to Malacañang to be signed into law by President Duterte, the public does need to know: Will they be safe with an all-knowing ID in hand? Anything less, and this critical project needs to be reconsidered.
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