National ID and artificial intelligence | Inquirer Opinion
Sisyphus’ Lament

National ID and artificial intelligence

I sent Dr. Reina Reyes a Mashable article which posited that “Mission: Impossible” movies are more successful the more Tom Cruise runs. It claimed positive correlation between quality (Rotten Tomatoes review scores) and distance run (estimated at 14.6 feet per second of screen time). Before “M:I-Fallout,” Cruise ran over 3,000 feet in both top-rated M:I movies, “M:I-III” and “Ghost Protocol.”

Reyes quickly distilled it into a scatter plot on Facebook, complete with a still of Cruise running. I am blessed with friends who continually teach me data visualization and big data’s other languages.

On the recent law creating a national ID system, should we not consult less activists and more scientists like Reina, who, at age 26, led a Princeton astrophysics team that validated Einstein’s general theory of relativity using a survey of 70,000 galaxies, up to 3.5 billion light years away?


Criticism of the law is legitimate. Critics caution that security remains inadequate and highlight the leak of millions of voter records from an unsecured Commission on Elections system. They fear data, particularly transaction histories, may be abused and used to harass.


But these are the same criticisms from the 1990s, already well-articulated by no less than retired chief justice Reynato Puno in his famous 1997 Ople vs Torres decision. This ruled that such a system would be so far-reaching that it must be authorized by a law (finally signed in 2018).

The Ople decision contained a second discussion of privacy, although this did not receive the votes to make it binding against a national ID system. Nevertheless, Puno’s thoughts now form the cornerstone of our data privacy jurisprudence.

Such decisions romanticize informational privacy as a “right to be let alone,” a basic human right to withdraw aspects of one’s life from public view.

The right to stop anyone from monitoring what medicine one purchases, what websites one visits and who one calls from one’s phone has been elevated to the same plane as the classic rights of free speech, equal protection and due process.

But such beautiful articulations are incomplete. They are purely negative.

The classic idea of law is that of restraint. It speaks to the “bad man,” tells him what he cannot do. But law is most powerful when it is aspirational, when it lays the foundations of what society can build, beyond merely what it prohibits.


Beyond withholding data, privacy frameworks must govern how data can be harnessed — with full transparency and consent of the owners, and with benefits equitably shared with data owners.

Assuming we solve security and abuse, we must shift the discussion to what government databases make possible. The same skills for making scatter plots of Cruise’s ratings can map demographic trends such as where people are moving to and from, and the average ages in each locale. Such data can identify where we will need more schools and hospitals, where incentives should stimulate new industries, and what mix of government services an area might need.

Data privacy in 2018 must recognize the many instances when we, in fact, want to share our data in exchange for benefits, beginning with more convenient transactions facilitated by a national ID. Data must be seen as a resource, beyond rights. Legal thinking must govern it in ways similar to natural resources and property. The law must incentivize making deeper and higher quality data sets available.

The stakes are immense. Data science lays the foundation for artificial intelligence, a field Stephen Hawking, Larry Page and Elon Musk all said will define humanity’s next technological evolution. President Xi Jinping has identified AI as a key field China aims to lead by 2025—clear marching orders to Tsinghua University Ph.Ds.

Lawyers must shift data privacy’s imagery away from militants seeking to enter towns using aliases, to brilliant Filipino mathematicians, engineers and developers keen to keep us in step with the future.

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React: [email protected], Twitter @oscarfbtan, This column does not represent the opinion of organizations with which the author is affiliated.

TAGS: national ID system, Oscar Franklin Tan, Sisyphus’ Lament, Tom Cruise

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