The national computerized identification reference system under Administrative Order No. 308 was deemed unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 1998. It was perceived to be a virus, a Trojan horse, which would insidiously lay the groundwork for a system which will violate the Bill of Rights enshrined in our constitution. I don’t suppose our constitution was amended yesterday so if A.O No. 308 was unconstitutional before, then it is unconstitutional now.
I recently read an online article of Atty. Mel Sta. Maria, she is the resident legal analyst of TV5 and teaches law at the Ateneo School of Law. It seems that there is a pending bill in the House of Representatives which was approved on second reading which, if passed, would require every citizen of the Philippines to have a National Identification card. Much like what Adolf Hitler did, as pointed out by Atty. Sta. Maria.
Now, those in favor of this bill may argue that the previous constitutional challenges enunciated in the case of Ople v. Torres was now cured in light of Republic Act No. 10173, otherwise known as the Data Privacy Act of 2012. It would be as if we needed a law to remind us that our privacy is valued. Why do we wear clothes in the first place? The way I see it, if RA 10173 is indeed protecting our right to privacy, then it shouldn’t it only reiterate what the Supreme Court said in 1998? I would like to think of RA 10173 as a fortification to my privacy, and not be construed as a way for the house bill to be passed.
RA 10173, in its declaration of policy, ensures that personal information in information and communication systems in the government and in the private sector are secured and protected. This is good, assuming I actually gave them my personal information. But I should not be compelled to give my personal information even if it would actually be protected. There are certain things we would like to keep to ourselves. The house bill is to RA 10173 as apples are to oranges. They are the same, only they are not. RA 10173 presupposes that the data is given and thus, protected, while the house bill compels the citizens to give data.
Allow me to use an excerpt from Atty. Sta. Maria’s article, which I believe speaks for itself.
In the United States, the proposal for a national identification system met with stiff opposition from various sectors. Katie Corrigan, legislative counsel of the American Civil Liberties Union, called this national ID “internal passports” and had this to say:
Internal Passports Required: A national ID card would set up the infrastructure for a surveillance society. Day to day, individuals could be asked for ID when they are walking down the street, applying for a job or health insurance, or entering a building. This type of daily intrusiveness would be joined with the full power of modern computer and database technology. If a police officer or security guard scans your ID card with a pocket bar-code reader, for example, will a permanent record be created of that check, including the time and location? How long before office buildings, doctors’ offices, gas stations, highway tolls, subways and buses incorporate the ID card into their security or payment systems for greater efficiency? The result could be a nation where citizens’ movements inside their own country are monitored and recorded through these “internal passports.
Government intrusion may be the least of worries for some, until it affects you on a personal level. Not only that, but in this day and age where hackers are able to infiltrate government websites and information systems, is it really safe to gather information on every Filipinos if it is proved that there are individuals who are capable of manipulating data online? Not only would we be compelled to give out personal information to the government, we would also be at the mercy of anyone capable of compromising our national security. How far can the long arm of RA 10173 reach, anyway?
Another important feature of the bill, which is a rehash of A.O 308 that needs to be addressed, is the potential for misuse of the data to be gathered as correctly pointed out by the Supreme Court in 1998. If a national ID would be used for every government transaction, Filipinos would necessarily give information however harmless it would seem. But this little transactions, when done repeatedly over a considerable time, would create a vast reservoir of information, which, taken as a whole would have a great potential for misuse which may be too much of a temptation for persons authorized with handling our information to resist, much more with unauthorized persons capable of accessing the same.
There are also some features of RA 10173 that I found to be questionable. The most important of which is Section 12 in relation to Section 12(a). It stated that personal information may be processed when at least one of five criteria enumerated therein, exists. The most important criteria of which, is “(a) that the data subject has given his or her consent”. Take note that this is only one of the criteria, which would not even be important as long as there are grounds for any of the other four criteria. As I understand it, consent is only optional to be lawful. This would be subject to abuse in a situation where an individual who refuses to divulge any personal information, which is within his right as per our constitution, would nevertheless be compelled to give it so long as there would be ground for the other four criteria. Last I checked, we are not governed by an authoritarian government, which, it seems this administration is slowly building up to.
If privacy means the ability of an individual or group to seclude themselves or information about themselves and thereby reveal themselves selectively, then the passing of the house bill into law would in effect destroy one of the most cherished right we have as individuals. They might as well name the law “The Anti-Privacy Act of 2013”.
To determine how important privacy is, we must imagine a world where there is no privacy. Discrimination, embarrassment, and damage to reputations are some of the things that would result in our loss of privacy. Therefore, we must always be vigilant when it comes to the protection of our privacy. But why is it that the Freedom of Information bill was stopped while this bill on the national ID is still being considered. It seems the government actually knows how important privacy and information are, though it is only a one-way street.
Ultimately, the protection of privacy rests not with anyone else but with oneself. If the state promises to protect your personal information to preserve your privacy, as RA 10173 ensures us, you are actually not enjoying privacy any longer, for there is someone other than yourself who is privy to your information. I recognize the fact that RA 10173 is a necessary law, but it should not be used as a means to defend the need for a national ID. I cannot stress this enough, but RA 10173 presupposes that the information or data is provided already and therefore the law protects it, while the house bill compels every individual to be subject to the requirement of having a national ID. Why would I give my personal information to others for them to protect when I could just not give it to them and protect it myself? It is within my right as guaranteed by the constitution.
Some lawmakers would make use of our patriotic nature and our love of our freedom by looking past the issue of privacy and just focus on replacing the cedula since it supposedly reminds us of the time we were colonized by Spain. I mean, are we really that naïve that we would give up our privacy just to forget that we were once colonized? Actually, why would we want to forget such a significant part of our history where our heroes stood up for what we are now enjoying? Come to think of it, this house bill is tantamount to being colonized, only worse, because now it is our own government who plays the role of Spain.
The lawmakers would argue that should this house bill regarding the national ID system be passed, it would lessen the problems the citizens encounter when transacting with the government. That it would cure problems, but could they really implement it? Or would it create more problems than it would solve? Let’s be realistic for a moment and consider the possibilities. I’m pretty sure that members of insurgencies, leftist, or rebel groups would not comply with the system since the government can’t even make peace with them. Do we even have the budget to implement this project? And when I say enough I mean that other more important projects were first paid attention to.
Next, is this project even feasible? Staffs would need to be trained and maintained and this cost money we could use for other more important projects. How about those homeless persons or people in tribes? They would be hard pressed to prove their identities, and without one would they be denied the benefits of having a national ID card?
Don’t get me wrong, I am not against RA 10173, though there are the questionable sections I pointed out, but I am against the pending house bill, the need for a nationalized ID system. I don’t care if the data I give would be protected, if it means that I will give the data against my will. If I am not able to protect my own information because a law is passed compelling me to do the same, why would I even feel safe that another law will ensure its protection? It is a slap on my principle. It may be a small sacrifice on my every citizen’s part, in order to reap the supposed benefits having a national ID system entails, but tell that to every drug addict who started small by giving in once. Some would argue that the fear of the technological threat to privacy would be defeated by the same technological safeguard measure that may be developed at the same time. That is a risk I am not willing to take, not for candies, nor for gold.
Prevention is better than cure. Worry for something that is yet to happen, instead of solving the same after something bad has happened because not all problems can be cured. The congress may indeed pass the national ID system, but not because of RA 10173, but because they wanted too. The previous constitutional obstacles that the good Senator Blas Ople brought up has not been hurdled by RA 10173, because RA 10173 only made measures to ensure that the information would be protected. What Blas Ople was referring to was the violation of the right of privacy, which, compelling every citizen to be subjected to the registration of a national ID would entail.
Even before the data we give would be protected by RA 10173, our constitutional right to privacy must first be violated if we would be compelled to register for a national ID. That is the clearest way that I can stress my point. Even if it would only require for me to state in the registration form whether I prefer a dog or a cat as an animal, I would not compromise my right, for all I know the government may be speculating which animal to eradicate. That was an exaggeration, of course, but the fact remains that it is at my mercy that I divulge what I want to about myself, and not because a law is ensuring that it would not be divulged further. Why would I even give them the benefit of the doubt when they could not even be transparent enough to be subjected to the same idea? Again, the Freedom of Information bill was stopped.
What is the worst case scenario? I fear the day will come that we will live in a time where we would have censors and system of surveillance on a national scale, when we once had the freedom to object and to think and speak as we saw fit. Would anyone really want anybody to always observe what anyone would do anytime? That is the worst case scenario. This is what the bill entails and is contemplating on passing. It may not only be abused by the government, but more importantly, other elements of the society just bent on causing chaos. That is the worst case scenario. It may even not happen, but that is not for me to delve upon. However remote the possibility may be, it is a possibility.
Suffice it to say, there are indeed benefits that we can enjoy if everyone would be subjected to a national ID system. But there is no need for that, everyone will hear about those and it would be well defended come the day it would be passed, which would seem inevitable. Since we were able to give up and stand idle while our fundamental right was violated, we should then be contented and feel secure since RA 10173 would protect us, right? As if we needed protection in the first place, the house bill used RA 10173 as its Trojan horse, and is now slowly entering our society.
Just for the sake of conversation, after our rights was violated and we would be subjected to the registration of a national ID, then comes the issue of what information would be collected and up to what extent such data would be used. RA 10173 assures us that the data collected would only be used for the purpose it was gathered for. It is so vague an assurance in my opinion. Since it would be easy to come up with various purposes, ergo, various data would be collected. It has endless possibilities which may be too hard to stop in the long run. It would gain momentum and there would be no turning back. If an agency would want to collected a certain type of data for a certain demographic, they could easily make up a “purpose”, just to collect the needed data they could use for whatever purpose they actually intended if for.
Private individuals who want nothing to do with the government would be required to update the information they registered with each and every time they make changes such as when they changed their abode or transferred to a different religion. How long until we would be required to relay to the government who we voted for during an election?
The framers of this house bill would argue that a national ID system would help in preventing crime and apprehending criminals since everyone would be afraid to commit a crime if they know it would be easier for the government to trace them. I must admit this sounds appealing but then again, not at the cost of violating my fundamental right. There will always be better ways of maintaining order. Although there are countries reaping the benefits of a national ID system, there are still countries which uphold the rights of their citizens and would rather not violate the same. It is a slippery slope and one which I would rather not tread.
The right to privacy is entwined with the freedom to express ourselves. Whatever we believe, wherever we want to live, however we want to spend our days or whatever we would want to pursue is up to us because we know that the government would not keep on monitoring us each time we want to do these things. It is irrational to even contend that one should not be concerned if the government would be able to maintain a surveillance system if one has nothing to hide. Think of a scenario where one’s political affiliation is contrary to the government, and of course, if this house bill would be passed, they could easily require every individual to register their political affiliations just for the purpose comparison. That same opinionated individual, who has nothing to hide but is merely exercising his right, could be easily monitored and isolated whatever he would do from then on. Would anyone want to be tracked this way? How could one even go about his daily routine knowing full well that whatever he does would be heavily monitored? There would be no room left to grow as an individual for we would be living in fear. Instead of feeling secure, we would get that sense of somebody always watching us from behind. We would always ask ourselves if we would have the government’s approval in whatever we do, thereby, limiting our options and in actuality, limiting our freedom.
We all know that our country is still developing. Aside from Manny Pacquiao, with his many faults included, there are few things we could be proud of. And this does not help us at all in the eyes of those who know how important the right to privacy is. I believe if we make a stand regarding this matter by not submitting to the qualms of the government, we can show the world that we will not compromise our fundamental rights and submit to quasi-authoritarian government.
It’s a shame that the good Senator, Blas Ople, is not alive today, if he was then he could fight this house bill all over again. Then again, it would also be a shame if he knew that there were those who stood idle while the right he fought for, as well as his neighbors at the Libingan ng mga Bayani who, at their own time, fought for the same, is now being compromised.
We are responsible for this since this happened on our watch. Is it too late? Let’s hope not. The house bill would still undergo its third reading and would then be submitted for the consideration of our senators, which makes this coming elections, all the more important. A few weeks from now, we would exercise our right to suffrage. Irony is wasted on the stupid, indeed.
This blog is the unsolicited opinion of the author and serves as compliance to an educational purpose. All ideas are of the author’s alone and does not reflect the opinion of any member of the bar or the opinion of any organization or any school.
Ople vs. Torres, GR 127685, 23 July 1998
Republic Act No. 10173 – “Data Privacy Act of 2012”
http://www.interaksyon.com/article/55302/ – accessed on May 4, 2013