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Security and privacy

By Senator Manny Villar

The Philippine Senate approved last month the Philippine Identification System (PhilSys) Act of 2018 which seeks to establish a national ID system. The House of Representatives had earlier passed a similar measure.

This legislation had been proposed in the previous years. I remember having extensive discussions and debates about it when I was speaker and later Senate president. The debate was intense and complex but it can be simplified into a debate between national security and efficiency on one hand, and, the right to privacy on the other hand.

Those who oppose the bill cite possible violations to individual rights to privacy. They claim that the establishment of a national ID system places a lot of individual information in the hands of the state. Politically, critics argued, these information can be used by some unscrupulous government officials to target opposition forces or simply employ surveillance and profiling on its unsuspecting citizens.

I completely understand where this argument is coming from. The Constitution provides for the protection of citizens’ right to privacy. But such rights are limited. In addition, in the age of social media where people share with the public what they ate for lunch, where they are going for the Holy Week break, their relationship status, and, the new car or house they bought, I am really surprised about the claim to privacy which sounds weak, given how much privacy we are already ceding to social media platforms.

Google for instance tracks your location, it stores your email communications and has access to, and analyzes, your browsing behavior in the Internet. Facebook does the same thing. And people willingly share private data to FB and to netizens.

Do not get me wrong. I think everyone should demand their right to privacy. For this reason, I think it is important that the legislation placed the responsibility to collect and protect the data in the Philippines Statistics Authority (PSA).

It also provided for funds to provide for data security and limits the ability of PSA to share collected data.

Besides, most of the data to be collected are no different from the data we have already shared with government when we acquired our tax identification number (TIN), passport, driver’s license, SSS or GSIS.

The only difference is that, under the approved measure, we will only have one ID and one number for life as opposed to 3 or 5 bulging in our wallets and bags. But more than this, the public will benefit tremendously from more efficient services from government. Transactions will require only one identification number, making it more convenient for citizens to seek government service.

Imagine the benefits a national ID would bring to health services, tax administration, social security, disaster response and management, and more importantly, to peace and order. I would imagine that most of those who would refuse to register with a national identification system have some serious reasons they do not want government to “recognize” them.

I will add that the national ID system will be of extreme help to our ability to fight terrorism. Terrorism nowadays have become borderless and almost anonymous, especially in social media. A national ID system will help in this regard as it provides valuable intelligence to counter-terrorism initiatives.

A national ID system will also help combat the rising phenomenon of identity theft which, coincidentally, is linked to terrorism. But the crime of identity fraud also has a negative impact on economic and business activities.

Weighing the pros and cons, I believe that it is time we adopted a national ID system. We are, after all, one of few countries which have yet to adopt one. The law has provided for safeguards and I urge agencies to ensure that in the Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR), strict measures are put in place to protect our information from data breach and from state abuse.