May 05, 2005

The case against a national ID

The National Identification System (NIDS) mandated in Executive Order 420 has been invariably described by its various proponents as a practical and harmless measure which has become all the more necessary to address the problem of "terrorism".

The government-issued ID card would contain vital data about a person such as: name, residence, sex, ID photo, signature, date and place of birth, marital status, names of parents, height, weight, two index finger and two thumb marks, information on any prominent distinguishing feature like moles and a Tax Identification Number. The compilation appears harmless enough at first glance.

Malacaňang insists the NIDS has become both urgent and imperative to stop "terrorism", curb criminality and "reduce costs and provide greater convenience for those transacting business with government". “Only those with something to hide", its proponents thus argue, would be against the ID system.

So why are civil libertarians, Opposition figures and militant mass organizations vehemently opposing a system that would purportedly provide all citizens with a useful ID and at the same time provide government a useful databank on each and every citizen?

Let us first understand what the NIDS is and how it works. The NIDS is essentially a population control measure. As a national system for identifying and monitoring the movements and activities of individuals, the NIDS is mandatory, not optional. It must cover everyone, there are no exemptions (except, of course, the privileged few with sufficient money and influence to override any system, but that's another story). As announced, the ID will be a requirement for transacting any business with government; that is, no ID, no service.

Once in place, the NIDS can then serve as an "internal passport", a compulsory requirement for the conduct of day to day activities. A person may be denied travel, medical services and the like, or even be arrested and detained illegally simply for failure to present her ID.

To illustrate, the police can use the ID system to challenge the presence of strangers in a locality. Without the ID, a person can be picked up for questioning by the police. One can be considered a suspicious character until one can provide any other proof of identity, give a credible explanation regarding one's movements or find someone to vouch for one's good, moral character. This completely overturns a person's right against unreasonable searches and seizures and places every individual in the category of a suspect until he or she can prove otherwise.

Moreover, since ID holders will be issued a distinct serial number that will be used and recorded for any transaction with government, a person’s activities can automatically be tracked through the NIDS. As the Supreme Court rightly pointed out in its earlier ruling against AO 308, or President Fidel Ramos’ attempt at instituting a national ID system during his term, such an ID system “can interfere with the individual’s liberty of abode and travel by enabling authorities to track down his movement”.

We can only conclude that the NIDS, by its very nature, violates a person’s right to privacy, to security of person and freedom of movement.

Further scrutiny of EO 420 that creates the NIDS reveals that there is no provision on how the compiled information about individuals in the government’s centralized data bank will be used, who will control access to such information, under what circumstances and for what purposes.

While there is mention of keeping all information confidential and for safeguards and encryption systems to be in place, there is no reasonable assurance that government can prevent the misuse of vital personal information or even the alteration of stored data for criminal ends.

The question begs to be asked: Can the government itself, with its record of corruption and abuse, be entrusted with a centralized database of personal information on everyone?

The answer to this basic question is also the answer to whether the NIDS can be an effective weapon against terrorism, organized crime as well as the “communist insurgency” (as Justice Secretary Raul Gonzales would want us to believe).

We submit that the answer is a resounding NO! With corruption so ingrained in the interstices of government, institutionalized from the top and culturally accepted every step of the way, it will not take long before an enterprising bureaucrat will find a way to produce fake IDs or allow the use of genuine ones fraudulently.

Witness how driving licenses and IDs issued to "special" or “confidential" agents of the military, police, the National Bureau of Investigation, and other government agencies are wantonly abused ending up in the hands of criminal syndicates and a variety of shady characters.

The Bagong Alyansang Makabayan warns in its position paper on EO 420:

"When taken as part of several measures aimed at curtailing civil liberties and democratic rights, including the Anti-terrorism Bill, pronouncements from the Armed Forces of the Philippines about 'enemy' lists as well as the brazen killings of activists and others critical of or opposed to the Arroyo administration, the NIDS is a dangerous measure that threatens our people's rights and well-being on all fronts.

It is clear that the US-Arroyo regime, rather than address the root causes of armed conflict, political dissension and social unrest with wide ranging and genuine reforms, intends to maintain its unjust, antinational and antipeople rule through coercion and intimidation. This regime is abetting and cultivating a climate of fear and insecurity amidst the worsening economic and political crisis and the people's growing call for its ouster from power."

Far from being an innocuous measure to improve government service and bolster the Arroyo government's counter-terrorism efforts, the NIDS looms as a devious instrument for political repression that an awakened and vigilant people must firmly oppose.

April 29-30, 2005


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