The recently approved national ID system could put the privacy rights of Filipinos at risk since it will keep logs of all day-to-day transactions requiring the mandated ID, warned human rights and law groups.

These transactions vary from local and overseas travel, credit card purchases, money remittances, and registration in public and private institutions.

The Philippine Identification System (PhilSys) Act or RA 11055 took effect nationwide last August 25. Accordingly, a year after this is enacted, every individual residing in the Philippines is required to register to the system. 

Jigs Clamor, the Deputy Secretary General of human rights monitor KARAPATAN, told Tinig ng Plaridel that personal data collected by the PhilSys can be abused by the government.

“We really are not sure of the data especially the personal ones that may be used against the dissenters [of the Duterte administration]. As we all know, the current president has become tyrannical in dealing with issues concerning the Filipino people, especially on the issues of human rights,” Clamor said.

Doubts over ‘record history’

Section 2 of RA 11055 states the inclusion of a “record history,” which refers to an “entry in the PhilSys consisting of the information regarding a registered person in connection with his or her ID.”

Simply put, the system will keep a record of every authentication request made whenever the ID is used in a transaction. Aside from the transactions mentioned above, the system will also record a person’s bank accounts and licenses, applications for social services and benefits, tax-related transactions, and verification of criminal record. 

National Union of Peoples’ Lawyer (NUPL) – UP president Jerome Joker dela Cruz emphasized the constitutional slip up of this provision.

“Privacy, or the right to be let alone, has been regarded as a fundamental right in our country. This means that strict standards must be satisfied before the state can legally meddle with this right,” dela Cruz wrote to Tinig ng Plaridel.

Clamor also warned the risk of this provision in terms of state surveillance.

“For example, if you go to areas where the so-called enemies of the states are, you can be associated with them.” Clamor mentioned. “There is a greater possibility that it may be used against the critics of the government.”

Similar arguments can be found in the 1998 Supreme Court decision on Fidel Ramos’ AO No. 308 of a computerized National ID System, which states: “the data may be gathered for gainful and useful government purposes; but the existence of this vast reservoir of personal information constitutes a covert invitation to misuse, a temptation that may be too great for some of our authorities to resist.”

Security of the ID system has also been questioned. Dela Cruz recalled the COMELEC data breach in 2016, which left about 55 million Filipinos at risk of identity theft, scams, and physical danger.

“The thing about information in this age is that once they are leaked, they cannot be contained again. A promise that it will not happen again will simply not suffice,” Dela Cruz stated.

A centralized ID system

Under the PhilSys, each registered Filipino will be assigned a PhilSys Number (PSN)—a randomly generated and permanent identification number they are to use in all transactions requiring proof of identification.

Upon registration, the system will collect their full name, sex, date of birth, place of birth, blood type, and address. Biometric information such as face photograph, fingerprints, and iris scan will also be recorded. Other information like marital status, mobile numbers, and e-mail address are optional.

Proponents of the law asserted that the enactment of PhilSys aims to primarily streamline the transactions within 33 government agencies and curtail corruption and crime.

However, Dela Cruz contended that the alleged objectives of the ID system are not compelling and strong enough to justify government intrusion into privacy rights.

“If all the government really wants is to streamline transactions, it can simply order the recognition by its agencies of the sufficiency of a single valid ID, the elimination of redundant ID systems, and the strengthening of the security features of the few ID systems that need to remain.” dela Cruz said.

Moreover, the Senate Economic Planning Office (SEPO) disputed the claim that ID cards can curb crime. Citing a London School of Economics’ study, SEPO attested that there are fewer crimes in countries without ID systems.

As for the ID system’s correlation with tax evasions and corruption, SEPO also dismissed its relevance. They explained that evasion is rooted in human and organizational issues, such as non-declaration of true assets. Hence, although it may cover the “underground economy”, the presence of an ID system will not genuinely solve the persisting troubles in the taxation system.

The staggering cost of implementing an ID system is also one challenge posed to developing countries like the Philippines, which could instead allocate funds to public services. In fact, P2 billion has already been appropriated to the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) in the 2018 national budget for its implementation, excluding the cost of maintaining and securing the database system.

Clamor emphasized that Filipinos should be aware of the implications posed by the PhilSys on their rights and safety. He also encouraged the public to be critical on the Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR) of the law for once they register in the system, they will no longer be in control of their personal information. TNP

Photo: Raevien Pintang

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