By VINZ SIMON
A threat to the right to privacy or a necessary step for facilitating service provision?
The debate on the National ID System, or the PhilSys, revolves around this question.
To answer it, it must first be understood that any state serves a society’s ruling class. Accordingly, the state maintains institutions that coerce its citizens through violence or threat of violence. Examples of such institutions include the armed forces, the police, courts, and prisons.
The Philippines is host to a society divided between the ruling elite and the masses of nationalist businessmen, professionals and intellectuals, workers, and farmers.
These classes are observable in their incomes. More than 74 percent of Filipino families earn just PhP 16,872-57,395 annually, the richest 0.1 percent earn more than PhP 702, 822 a year.
The distinction between the elite and the masses could also be seen in how they increase their wealth. For example, the Ayala Corporation’s fortunes rose by 16 percent last year while the marginal gains made by working class Filipinos last year have been wiped out by the recent inflation.
Exactly because the state serves the elite, it permits the persistence of such gross inequalities. The state also purposely suppresses the basic masses and neglects their rights.
To illustrate, because of state policies of contractualization, union membership among workers in the country has shrunk to just 6.7 percent of the total workforce by June 2016.
Meanwhile, workers’ strikes and farmers’ land occupations have been met with violence. Notable cases of strike dispersals have been reported such at Middleby in Laguna and NutriAsia in Bulacan, while land grabbing of indigenous peoples’ ancestral lands continue.
In the above examples, the entire state was mobilized to suppress the workers. From government cabinets, judicial courts, every manner of laws and policies, and of course, the police, the campaigns for life and livelihood were discouraged and violently pinned down.
It is this repressive state that will wield the National ID System.
The National ID System is dangerous because it allows a repressive state to identify Filipinos with greater detail and accuracy. Defenders of the PhilSys say that such an accuracy enables service provision, but whatever information is used for welfare will likewise be used also for criminality and fascism.
An IT organization, the Computer Professionals’ Union (CPU), warned that electronic user data are bound to be compromised. Such was the case in the 2016 Comeleaks incident where voter information, even their biometrics, were released to the public. Filipinos enrolled in the National ID System will expose their identities to fraudulent activities in the likely event that the PhilSys is compromised.
India’s Aadhar, a similar national ID system, has been involved in hundreds of cases of identity theft and the denial of public services because of glitches to its system. People in India have died because the state refused to grant their rights that have been tied to the information stated (or accessed) in their national ID.
The CPU raised more red flags in the potential use of the PhilSys for the more precise mass surveillance of Filipinos. Like Big Brother, the government will have access to every Filipino’s economic lives, and their patterns of transportation and consumption.
This frightening possibility of the government’s oversight over very intimate details of an individual’s life is what propelled the Supreme Court in 1998 to decide against a national ID system. The SC warned that data under a national ID system’s “vast reservoir of personal constitutes a covert invitation to misuse, a temptation that may be just too great for some of our authorities to resist.”
The PhilSys creates enduring profile of a person from cradle to grave. Within the grasp of military and police, the use of PhilSys’ information to track individuals and brand them as criminals and terrorists is turning into an Orwellian reality.