Saturday, April 22, 2006

EDITORIAL - The devil is in the implementation

The Philippine Star

The Supreme Court’s decision upholding the constitutionality of Executive Order 420, which provides for a so-called unified identification system for government workers, has raised hopes for the implementation of an ID system that will cover all citizens of voting age. The scheme covered by EO 420 is meant mainly to facilitate government transactions; the national ID system, on the other hand, is meant as a tool to fight criminality and terrorism.

Malacañang has ordered government agencies to put on track the unified ID system, which will cover some 1.3 million state workers. The scheme, with its limited coverage, should serve as a gauge of the government’s capability to implement an identification system.

Concerns have been raised that the objective of issuing unified ID cards will be defeated if the scheme is implemented haphazardly. The ID card must be hard to forge, and the technology for doing this doesn’t come cheap. Does the government have the resources for this? There must also be an effective system of verifying the data contained in each ID. Corrupt government personnel issue fake vehicle registration documents for the right price, abetting carjacking. Corrupt government personnel may also issue unified IDs indiscriminately, compromising the integrity of the system.

These risks are heightened in the case of the proposed national ID system, which is meant to promote peace and order by denying crooks and terrorists the cloak of anonymity. Proponents of the scheme prefer to call it a national reference system. The term is meant to soften opposition from people who are worried that the scheme is prone to abuse and can lead to violations of human rights.

Supporters of the scheme point out that those who have nothing to hide have nothing to fear. They also point out that the scheme is meant merely to consolidate information already contained in official documents that cover a law-abiding citizen, including income tax return, passport, voter’s ID and driver’s license.

Given the country’s recent history, however, there are valid fears that the national ID system can be abused for political purposes. And there are valid concerns that the government might botch the implementation of the national ID, making it a useless addition to the numerous official documents citizens must obtain. The government can allay some of these concerns by implementing the unified ID system effectively enough to achieve its avowed objective.

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