Electronic technology has emerged as one of the greatest invention of the human mind. And through such development, access to information and communication had become limitless as it came through the door of anyone. This advancement has opened avenues as it provided convenient ways of business, economics and communication and as termed by Tom Friedman in his book, the world has become flat.
Friedman’s idea of the world becoming flat meant that “the global competitive playing field is being leveled and it is now possible for more people than ever to collaborate and compete in real time with more other people on more different kinds of work from more different corners of the planet and on a more equal footing than at any previous time in the history of the world”.1 Friedman entails that this “flattening” of the world is the result of ten factors and one of which is the new age of connectivity no other than the World Wide Web.
With such commendable result of technology, what Friedman’s idea of the world becoming flat must not getaway that this effect does not only lead an advantage but also the negative outcome of easily producing false information and would basically result in lessening the privacy of each of every citizen which Philippine Constitution mainly values. One result of the enormous outcome of technology, is the evolution of the National Identification system.
NATIONAL IDENTIFICATION SYSTEM AND THE CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHT TO PRIVACY
A national identification system is basically a method utilized by the government to establish the identities of individuals in their society who necessarily transact with the government or avail of its services. Other countries have adopted the system, each having a version of its own that is tailored-fit to accommodate their own socio-political circumstances.2 The House Bill 217, which is introduced by Honorable Rozzano B. Biazon, provides the proposition of a national identification system, which aims to lessen “Red Tape” in the bureaucracy or in the delay of processing documents, and transactions that has always been the chief complaint with the government offices because it lacks proper proof of identity and efficient tracking system.
Proponents of the bill believe that the benefits of having such a system far outweigh the disadvantages. Advocates contend that with a National ID system in place, the government shall gain substantial headway in combating terrorism, illegal immigration, crime and tax fraud. Certainly, they argue, with essential data readily available to the government as a result of the system, illegal activities can be easily monitored and contained early on thereby preventing a more adverse situation that might go out of hand.3 Given such possible advantages, I come to think that such reasons still, cannot be enough in order to sacrifice every bit of privacy that a citizen can have. Combating Illegal immigration and tax fraud cannot be of greater or even equated to every person’s right to life and liberty.
One of the pros of the system is the lessening of ‘red tape’. It may be hard to admit, but ‘red tape’ became and is until now the bad character of our government offices and services, which we are not proud of. Continuous complaints have been received by the government about this, and the national system became the cover-up to solve this problem. As a responsible citizen, we are then confronted with the issue whether this proposed system provides hidden avenue for the government to curtail our constitutional right to privacy.
Would the national identification system curtail every citizen’s right to privacy? This is the main question, which will make us think that the system may contain negative effects although confronted with the advantages, which what the system may come about.
The system provides that every person who is 18 years of age and above which is legally residing in the Philippines is required to register for a National Identification Card (NIC). Such card contains a photo, its name, address, date of birth and its signature. If we come to think of it, we may feel that there is nothing wrong about and makes us think of ‘why not?’ but the bill confronts us of provisions which are to be vague and the uncertainty of it provides ways of when and where to use such card.
Section 5 of the House Bill 2174 provides the functions of the National Identification Card where I am confronted with questions, which it may be used. Since it is not new that we question the system because of the right to privacy, we should inquire then of when could only such card be used. Such section which is provided in letter (g) provides us a very vague provision of the extent of the card. Critics has been questioning such system because of such extent and the only way to solve such problem is to define and set the limitations of the use of the card in order to persuade every citizen that such would not be used in cases which would not curtail the right to privacy.
Contentious issues have arisen with such system. ‘Among these issues are the high costs of its implementation and the lack of assurance that it would result in more efficient government service. The greater concern however were those being put up by civil libertarians and human rights advocates who are apprehensive of the possible misuse and abuse of the system. They contend that in spite of the noble goals hoped for, an identification system can still suffer from the so- called “functionality creep,” meaning it can serve purposes other than its original intent. Thus, they say that the data contained in the ID system may be used as a mechanism for repression against political opponents or as basis for discrimination.’5
With the issue of cost of the implementation of the system, I come to think that we can’t always question whether the government can afford such but the important question is whether it would mainly resolve the issues which the system try to solve and that is to provide its citizens of better and systematic services and of course to eliminate the issue of ‘red tape’. And I agree with its greatest concern and that is the possibility of misuse and abuse of the system, which affects greatly the privacy of every Filipino.
The government provide us answers that the system has been applied by foreign countries and provided a convenient and systematic service in terms of the government agencies, but such answer becomes immaterial unless the function and use of such card is presented and assures the citizen of its limitations, extent and the rare possibility of becoming misused and abused by the government officials.
The thought of a mandatory national ID system is repulsive. It is "BIG BROTHER" mentality again, giving government the means to look over our shoulders and monitor us. Even if it were only on a voluntary basis, any government agency can simply make the procurement of such ID a requirement, a condition for the agency’s assistance or service. And instead of arguing about it, a citizen would probably just get one just to avoid any unnecessary delay in his or her transaction with that agency. 6
DATA PRIVACY ACT AS A SOLUTION TO THE CONSTITUTIONAL ISSUES PROVIDED IN OPLE vs. TORRES?
The case of Ople vs. Torres mainly concerns the constitutionality of Administrative Order No. 308 entitled "Adoption of a National Computerized Identification Reference System” which was issued by President Fidel V. Ramos in 1996. By then Senator Blas Ople questions such order in two contentions which first, it is a usurpation of the power of Congress to legislate and second is that the order intrudes to the constitutional right of privacy of every citizen. The case mainly revolves to the decision of the Supreme Court as it proclaimed the Administrative Order to be unconstitutional because it is against the Bill of rights specifically the right of every citizen to privacy.
The decision, which stated that “the right to privacy is one of the most threatened rights of man living in a mass society. The threats emanate from various sources — governments, journalists, employers, social scientists, etc. In the case at bar, the threat comes from the executive branch of government which by issuing A.O. No. 308 pressures the people to surrender their privacy by giving information about themselves on the pretext that it will facilitate delivery of basic services. Given the record-keeping power of the computer, only the indifferent fail to perceive the danger that A.O. No. 308 gives the government the power to compile a devastating dossier against unsuspecting citizens.”7 has been the continuous reason why the country does not have the ID system until this time and this is where the Data Privacy Act comes in the picture.
The Supreme Court had declared the National ID system to be "...may interfere with the individual's liberty of abode and travel by enabling authorities to track down his movement; it may also enable unscrupulous persons to access confidential information and circumvent the right against self-incrimination; it may pave the way for "fishing expeditions" by government authorities and evade the right against unreasonable searches and seizures. The possibilities of abuse and misuse of the PRN, biometrics and computer technology are accentuated when we consider that the individual lacks control over what can be read or placed on his ID, much less verify the correctness of the data encoded. They threaten the very abuses that the Bill of Rights seeks to prevent. The ability of sophisticated data center to generate a comprehensive cradle-to-grave dossier on an individual and transmit it over a national network is one of the most graphic threats of the computer revolution. The computer is capable of producing a comprehensive dossier on individuals out of information given at different times and for varied purposes. It can continue adding to the stored data and keeping the information up to date. Retrieval of stored date is simple. When information of a privileged character finds its way into the computer, it can be extracted together with other data on the subject. Once extracted, the information is putty in the hands of any person. The end of privacy begins."8
With the advances in information technology, privacy in personal data has become illusory. For the right price or with good connections, private information disclosed in confidence to companies or government offices can be made available to or accessed by interested parties.9 And as provided by the Court, Filipino citizens are not yet ready to have such advancement because we lack laws, which would mainly secure such information that would affect the privacy of every citizen. And with the passing of the Data Privacy Act, will it provide enough security for the citizens? Can the government fully implement such provisions? Does the government have enough capability or machineries to fulfill such protection or security?
Republic Act 10173 otherwise known as the ‘Data Privacy Act of 2012’ which mainly provides regulations to the use of personal information may be the solution as to the implementation of the National ID system in the Philippines. The constitutional right to privacy has been considered as the main reason of why until now the bill introducing such system has not been passed in the country. The question of whether such act newly passed by the legislative would then be enough to protect the issues of privacy of the citizen in order for the National ID system may be pursued by the country.
The act aims to substantially raise the profile of the Philippines in the data privacy (and business in the data processing) sphere by mandating that all personal information controllers, being persons who control the collection, holding, processing or use of the personal information of others (defined in the Act as ‘Data Subjects’) comply with a raft of requirements before any such collecting, holding, processing or use may take place.10
Such requirements are provided in Section 411 of the Republic Act which mainly discusses the scope in which personal information may only be applied and such implementation of the stated requirements shall be ensured by the National Privacy Commission as provided by the section 7 of the Act. The Commission is mainly tasked to ensure the confidentiality of all the personal information, which may be gathered by the controllers as defined also by the Act.
Given the fact that the law has provision for a National Privacy Commission, our government does not have enough machineries and manpower to maintain such commission’s purpose. For the continuous preservation of personal’s information, although such Commission exist, which we don’t even feel exist right now, given the fact that the law was existing for some time, as citizen would still not feel secured and protection given the fact that there is a staggering possibilities of abuse not only to the government but the officials who could turn such information against the advantage of anyone.
Republic Act 10173 or the Data Privacy Act does not mainly resolve the constitutional issues that the case of Ople vs. Torres presents.
Right to privacy is long well established in our country, almost all the living Filipinos know the history of how Filipinos fought for the freedom we have today. Filipinos fought for the freedom from the grip of dictatorship that had bought by the Martial Law. And from the introduction of the National ID system, this freedom can be undermined for the misuse and abuse of the purposes of which such was created.
As what Justice Romero said in his separate opinion in the case of Ople vs Torres, what marks off man from a beast is that a man is a rational being, one who is endowed with intellect which allows him to apply reasoned judgment to problems at hand; he has the innate spiritual faculty which can tell, not only what is right but, as well, what is moral and ethical. Because of his sensibilities, emotions and feelings, he likewise possesses a sense of shame. In varying degrees as dictated by diverse cultures, he erects a wall between himself and the outside world wherein he can retreat in solitude, protecting himself from prying eyes and ears and their extensions, whether form individuals, or much later, from authoritarian intrusions.12
The government presents National ID system mainly for the purpose of crime prevention, combating of terrorism & tax fraud and administrative efficiency. But with such purposes, we should not decline its brought about disadvantages of which presents human rights and privacy issues.
According to human rights activists, an ID system can be a double-edged sword because it can suffer from “functionality creep” which means it can serve purposes other than its original intent. Thus, even if the original rationale for an ID system is simply to cut government red tape, a government may eventually use it as a mechanism for repression against political opponents or to discriminate on the basis of race or ethnicity. For instance, the Rwanda genocide in 1995 was facilitated by the use of ID cards. Newspaper reports recounted that Rwandans who presented ID cards bearing a Tutsi identification were hacked to death by the Hutu militia.13 And although the government firmly advocates that the ID system can only be used for specific purpose or determination, and provides National Privacy Commission in the Data privacy Act, this does not equate to guaranteeing people that such is flawlessly implemented. The government does not have enough machineries, manpower and even costs to control information especially when technology comes into play.
The purposes of administrative efficiency or success in decreasing incidence of tax evasion and red tape on the other hand, can only be achieved if the government makes significant strides in instituting in the bureaucracy the central tenets of good governance: transparency, predictability, participation and accountability.14 And which a basic characteristic of a democratic government should have.
Ultimately, the viability of an ID system rests on a question that has hounded mankind since the time it founded the institution of government as the basis of social order: To what extent should a citizen allow the government to interfere with private affairs in exchange for his security? 15
1 Friedman, Tom A. (2006). The World is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty First Century. United States: Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Page 8.
2 Yano, Alexander (May 24, 2012). The Proposed National ID System. Retrieved May 3, 2013, from http://www.manilatimes.net/index.php/opinion/columnist1/23504-..
4 Section 5. Functional Uses of the ID Card. – The ID card that will be issued shall be presented and honored in transactions requiring the verification of the person’s identity, such as, but not limited to:
a) transactions with any government agency;
b) filing applications for any services and benefits offered by the Government Service Insurance System (GSIS), the Social Security System (SSS), and The Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth);
c) tendering income tax payments to the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR);
d) admission in any government hospital, health centers or similar institutions;
e) identification for admission in all schools, colleges, learning institutions and/or universities, whether public or private; or
f) proof of identity, status, age and address;
g) other similar transactions or uses which may be defined by the DOJ in the implementing rules and regulations.
5 Yano, Alexander (May 24, 2012). The Proposed National ID System. Retrieved May 3, 2013, from http://www.manilatimes.net/index.php/opinion/columnist1/23504-..
6 Sta. Maria (February 18, 2013). A National ID System? Let’s hope not. Retrieved May 3, 2013, from http://www.interaksyon.com/article/55302/mel-sta-maria--a-national-id-system-lets- hope-not
7 Ople v. Torres, G.R. No. 127685, July 23, 1998.
9 Palabrica, Raul J. (August 31, 2012). Data Privacy Act. Retrieved May 4, 2013 from http://m.inquirer.net/business/?id=79534
10 Christie, Alec & Cheuk, Arthur (October 27, 2012). Australia: New tough privacy regime in the Philippines Data Privacy Act signed into Law. Retrieved May 4, 2013 from http://www.mondaq.cpm/australia/x/203136/Data+Protection+Privacy/privacy+law+Philippines
11 Section 4. Scope - SEC. 4. Scope. – This Act applies to the processing of all types of personal information and to any natural and juridical person involved in personal information processing including those personal information controllers and processors who, although not found or established in the Philippines, use equipment that are located in the Philippines, or those who maintain an office, branch or agency in the Philippines subject to the immediately succeeding paragraph: Provided, That the requirements of Section 5 are complied with.
This Act does not apply to the following:
(a) Information about any individual who is or was an officer or employee of a government institution that relates to the position or functions of the individual, including:
(1) The fact that the individual is or was an officer or employee of the government institution;
(2) The title, business address and office telephone number of the individual;
(3) The classification, salary range and responsibilities of the position held by the individual; and
(4) The name of the individual on a document prepared by the individual in the course of employment with the government;
(b) Information about an individual who is or was performing service under contract for a government institution that relates to the services performed, including the terms of the contract, and the name of the individual given in the course of the performance of those services;
(c) Information relating to any discretionary benefit of a financial nature such as the granting of a license or permit given by the government to an individual, including the name of the individual and the exact nature of the benefit;
(d) Personal information processed for journalistic, artistic, literary or research purposes;
(e) Information necessary in order to carry out the functions of public authority which includes the processing of personal data for the performance by the independent, central monetary authority and law enforcement and regulatory agencies of their constitutionally and statutorily mandated functions. Nothing in this Act shall be construed as to have amended or repealed Republic Act No. 1405, otherwise known as the Secrecy of Bank Deposits Act; Republic Act No. 6426, otherwise known as the Foreign Currency Deposit Act; and Republic Act No. 9510, otherwise known as the Credit Information System Act (CISA);
(f) Information necessary for banks and other financial institutions under the jurisdiction of the independent, central monetary authority or Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas to comply with Republic Act No. 9510, and Republic Act No. 9160, as amended, otherwise known as the Anti-Money Laundering Act and other applicable laws; and
(g) Personal information originally collected from residents of foreign jurisdictions in accordance with the laws of those foreign jurisdictions, including any applicable data privacy laws, which is being processed in the Philippines.
12 Ople v. Torres, G.R. No. 127685, July 23, 1998.
13 Encinas-Franco, Jean (December 2005). National Identification System: Do we need one?. Senate Economic Planning Office: Policy Insights
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