The Philippines is on track to register 9 million low-income households for their national biometric ID system. In October 2020, Raul Diego reported for MintPress News that this ID system is to be provided to all citizens but will be offered first on a volunteer basis. The main function of the ID is to provide proof of identification for applications to benefits or services at any government agency. It will also serve as an identification to open bank accounts or apply for things such as a driver license or passport. However, Diego notes that concerns over privacy and corporate interest have “dogged” the ID system since its creation.
In 2018, Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte signed into law Republic Act No. 11055, known as the “Philippine Identification System Act.” Two years later the system is rolling out, and low-income communities are the first to gain access to enrolment. The Philippine Statistics Authorities (PSA) will be going from house to house and registering citizens for the National ID. The PSA is in charge of collecting data to analyze and publicize the statistical information on economic, social, demographic, and political affairs. It also enforces the civil registration functions in the country. However, unlike other ID’s, this National ID system will include not only a front-facing picture, but also biometric data such as iris scans and full fingerprint sets.
As Diego reported, one of the biggest supporters for this National Biometric ID is the Central Bank of the Philippines. The central bank has stated its goal to increase the percentage of adults with bank accounts from 29 percent to 70 percent by 2023. He also notes support of the ID system from the nation’s two biggest telecom companies, PLDT and Globe Telecom. Concerns over corporate interests in the ID program like these and of mass government surveillance worry citizens and experts alike. Diego references Filipino researcher Josh Malonzo of the College Editors Guild of the Philippines, who, “tweeted out an all-caps warning about how the national ID program will dovetail with the highly controversial Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020, resulting in de facto mass surveillance.”
COVID-19 has given governments opportunities to implement mass surveillance programs in the name of health and safety. Nigeria is implementing a similar type of digital ID. In April 2020, African Business reported that the digital ID rollout in Nigeria is being carried out in order to provide better access to government services, and will also include full fingerprint sets, iris scans, and front-facing pictures like the Philippine program. The Nigerian Identity Management Commission (NIMC) is the agency in charge of the identification database. The agency can grant security agencies, public institutions, and licensed private organizations access to its database without the consent of the registered individual. In other words, it is a risk to privacy if put in the wrong hands and is also a potential surveillance tool. A January 2020 report, “Understanding the Lived Effects of Digital ID,” produced by The Engine Room, documents the impacts of digital ID systems on diverse populations and marginalized communities in Nigeria and four other countries (Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Thailand, and Zimbabwe).
These biometric ID systems have received little to no coverage in the mainstream media. The most recent reporting has been from CNN Philippines, who reported on November 25, that 6.287 million people completed the first step in registering for the national ID as of November 24, and that the year-end target is nine million people. However, CNN Philippines did not report on the risks of security or privacy concerns, and ignored the most important questions: Who will have access to the citizens’ data, and how will that data be used?
Raul Diego, “Philippines to Roll Out National ID as Surveillance State Spreads Across the World,” Mint Press News, October 14, 2020, https://www.mintpressnews.com/philippines-national-id-surveillance-state-spreads-covid/271982/.
“Nigerian ID Rollout Raises Data Protection Concerns.” African Business, no. 472 (April 2020): 60–61.
Student Researcher: Katherine Beltran (Sonoma State University)
Faculty Evaluator: Roxanne Ezzet (Sonoma State University)