No ID, no entry

By Tonyo Cruz

Is there any country that approved and then cancelled a National ID law?

This question is relevant after the government recently enacted a National ID Law. Critics fear that it would be used to track down, harass, and squeeze perceived enemies, critics and non-supporters of the administration, residents of bailiwicks of opponents, suspected drug addicts, suspected communists, and suspected terrorists. This could best sum up one of the main critiques against a National ID Law. This National ID could be a tool to terrorize specific citizens or to deny access to social services.

But going back to the question, the answer is yes. There is such a country that took a 180-degree turn on the National ID. That country is the United Kingdom.

In 2010, the new British government repealed the previous government’s National Identity Act of 2006. It didn’t help that the British people remembered the “indignity” of being stopped by police during the war and with law enforcers demanding that they present their IDs. It also didn’t help that the government lost in 2007 about 25 million records of the Revenue and Customs office.

UK security experts who had earlier supported a National ID later said they were “of limited value to fighting crime.” Human rights group Liberty said the National ID of Spain did not deter or stop the terror attacks in Madrid.

In fact, the UK security experts warned the British public and the British government that a National ID system would make it a delicious target for identity thieves — especially since it would be linked to multiple databases from social security and health, to driving records and voter information, and even private banking transactions. “Placing trust in a single document may make identity theft easier, since only this document needs to be targeted.”

And then there are the costs to the British citizen and the British government. The application process and the issuance of the ID cards, the setting up/maintenance/expansion/upgrade of databases would cost UK an estimated 12-18 billion British pounds.

“The variety of claims attributed to the project – ranging from tackling terror and crime, to stopping health tourism and identity fraud – make it harder to pinpoint exactly how effective the scheme will be,” a media report said.

By 2010, most British people viewed the National ID as “expensive, intrusive, and ineffective.”

Going back to our country, it is wishful thinking that a National ID system would be effective in delivering the many, wide-ranging “positives” and “benefits” being claimed by the government and his supporters.

The Philippine government’s track record in safeguarding our data is not that all good. For instance, no one was held accountable for the 2015 Comelec leak “Comeleak” of at least 75,302,683 voter records. Also exposed were 896,992 personal data records, 20,485 records of firearms serial numbers, and records of 1,267 Comelec personnel. (Before its supporters blame this solely on the previous regime, let us point out that the current regime has not done anything to investigate and prosecute.)

The outsourcing and privatization by government agencies of its data capture, storage, and maintenance further expose our data to unaccountable private parties. The private sector too has a cavalier attitude towards customer data: There is widespread sale and trade of customer information.

Would a National ID System deter crime, corruption, or terrorism? Highly doubtful. There are many suspected crooks, thieves, plunderers, murderers, death squads, state terrorists, bribe-takers, and corrupt cops caught in flagrante delicto — and yet the government does not run after them. Worse, they comprise the highest officialdom of government.

There is also this fantasy that a National ID would lead to better and more adequate social services. How an ID card would magically bring that to the nation, we do not know. For instance, would a National ID instantly make our public hospitals more accessible, more dependable, and more adequately staffed and funded? Not really. The regime has no intention of veering away from the state policy of privatizing public health services. Neither is it moving towards a single-payer public health insurance system.

What is more possible, considering the government’s track record and predilection, is that the National ID System may be used to profile the population. Corrupt officials at various levels may be able to access the database, misuse the data, and get away with it. And it would produce new and worse forms of identity theft, and the introduction and maintenance of the system a rich source for corrupt officials and “suppliers.”

Yes, “suppliers.” The National ID System is a new business enterprise worth tens of billions of pesos to introduce, build, and maintain. Corrupt officials and their partners from the private sector are salivating at taxpayer money that would be alloted by the government for this project. This is aside from the fees coming straight from citizens.

Lastly, it is not true that we would have only one ID to rule them all. We would still need passports in order to travel. And if you’re one of 10 million OFWs, you would have to have two IDs. Whether a National ID would finally end the charging of terminal fees (and the pathetic refund process) and track down human traffickers and illegal recruiters, the government is silent.

For now, what’s certain is that under the National ID System it would soon be “no ID, no entry” to Duterteland.