The Manila Times - Yes to a national ID

By Jojo Robles | The Manila Times

A LITTLE more than a month before the May 9, 2016 national elections, hackers broke into the database of the Commission on Elections and dumped the personal data of millions of Filipino voters on the Internet. “ComeLeak,” as the biggest-ever private data leak in the country came to be known, was supposedly pulled off by homegrown hackers belonging to Anonymous Philippines and Lulzsec Pilipinas, in order to highlight the lack of security measures in place to protect the voters’ data collected by the Comelec.

Ultimately, the hackers dumped 340 gigabytes of purloined data online. This represented the personal information of most of the country’s 55 million registered voters, including those of 1.3 million Filipino overseas voters (complete with their passport data), 15.8 million sets of fingerprints and a list of candidates in all elections held since 2010, when automation of the electoral system was first implemented, according to the Web security outfit Trend Micro.

The Comelec quickly went on damage-control mode, saying that both its data and the elections had not been compromised by the cyber-attack. Two hackers – both of them young IT students – were arrested in Sampaloc, Manila and Muntinlupa by the National Bureau of Investigation shortly after the data dump was discovered, and that seemed to be the end of that.

The ComeLeak scandal was eventually buried by stories on the elections itself, as expected. Not a lot of people even remember it anymore.

But the cyber-attack on Comelec two years ago highlights the single most important concern being raised about the national ID system, which seems about ready to be rolled out nearly two decades after it was first proposed during the Ramos years. Can government be entrusted with our private data, which should never fall into the hands of malicious hackers and other people with criminal intent?

The question is important because unlike most personal data submitted online, registered voters and Filipinos who sign up for the national ID program do not do so voluntarily. Their data submissions are unlike those, say, of people applying for bank loans or credit cards or who go on social media or visit other Web sites, who give up private information willingly even if they know that it could end up with third parties that buy them from companies that collect and sell them.

The security of submitted data is about the only valid objection to the national ID system, which got a big boost after both chambers of Congress hammered out a common version of the proposed law on the scheme this week. The National Statistics Authority, as the repository of the data collected from the citizenry who will be given IDs, should make sure that it has learned from the sad experience of Comelec in 2016, in its bid to rationalize the chaotic system that we have at present.

If only because a unified ID system will provide relief and convenience to Filipinos who can’t access vital services without it, we should agree to the plan. And I don’t know of anyone who’s ever been asked to produce at least two government-issued ID cards or to submit a birth certificate to prove being born every time he or she renews one of the 30-plus mostly- redundant IDs issued by an equal number of government agencies will disagree.

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Security concerns aside, all the other objections to the national ID system are unfounded, paranoid and just plain stupid. Take, for instance, the opposition by left-leaning groups to the scheme on the ground that it violates personal privacy.

This is fear-mongering that cannot outweigh the benefits of having a system that provides convenience to millions who suffer every time they have to transact business with government and private entities that require proper identification.

Nearly all well-run countries rely on some sort of unified ID system (say, the personal social security number in the United States) in order to provide services to the public. By itself, having such a system in place cannot constitute a violation of privacy, unless the data is illegally accessed or used.

Which leads me to another objection to the scheme that has been voiced by leftist Kabataan party-list Rep. Sarah Elago. This lawmaker said:

“This is additional ammunition for the Duterte administration, which likes to silence critics, trample on human rights and criminalize dissent. [The national ID system] may be used for spying and more surveillance.”

This is just the sort of outdated thinking that presumes bad faith and worse motives on a government that merely wants to make the delivery of services more efficient and effective. Besides, Elago, a Janey-come-lately-communist, forgets that all the totalitarian states that she and her leftist buddies are enamored with – assuming that they still exist, of course – were the most assiduous implementors of national ID systems, nationwide surveillance programs and oppressive campaigns to stifle human rights.

I guess Elago and other leftists are convinced that what few supporters they have remaining, particularly among the poorest, most underserved communities of the country, would rather have their right to privacy protected than be able to enjoy services like food and other subsidies, medical treatment, housing, education and documentation that they could get more easily from government with a national ID system.

Elago’s objection, of course, is part and parcel of the bigger campaign against President Rodrigo Duterte himself, who has promised to approve the Congress proposal as soon as it lands on his desk. As another rabid critic of Duterte’s, former Aquino administration official Etta Rosales, explained it, they really have no problem with a national ID scheme, except that it will be implemented by Duterte.

“Under more humane conditions where people are free to walk the streets and enjoy the comfort of police protection, I would say ‘yes’ because this facilitates government services to the public. But conditions [under Duterte]are not healthy and safe,” Rosales, a diehard Yellow, said.

All of which, of course, leads me to the familiar territory claimed by those hard-wired to oppose the current president. They can accept that Duterte is doing the right things, but they just don’t want him to succeed.

And this, ultimately, is the biggest reason why we should have a national ID system. It’s the right thing to do – and it irritates the hell out of those who think they have a monopoly of doing the right thing.