Philippine Congress ratifies national ID law

But critics fear it will create system prone to data abuse

Philippine lawmakers have ratified a proposed law creating a "national identification system", amid criticism it will set up a mechanism prone to data breach and abuse.

The Bill, approved by Congress on Wednesday, creates a single proof of identity Filipinos can use for all transactions, similar to Singapore's National Registration Identity Card. It harmonises at least 33 government-issued IDs.

President Rodrigo Duterte is expected to sign the Bill into law and the system could be rolled out as early as this month.

It will take five years to complete and cost at least 30 billion pesos (S$760 million).

The Philippine Identification System (PhilSys) will have 13 sets of information, including a person's biometrics, taxpayer's number, passport number, health insurance number, as well as personal details such as address, blood type and marital status. The PhilSys card will be required for all government transactions. It will also be the main "proof of identity" for transactions with banks, job applications and verification for criminal records.

Representative Sol Aragones, who co-authored the Bill, said she expects a million cards to be issued this year, mostly to those who still lack "proof of identity", those with disabilities and the elderly.

"Each of us now has to carry a thick wad of IDs when transacting with the government and private companies. This reduces everything into a single card," said Ms Aragones.

But critics warned that the system could be used for state surveillance and is also vulnerable to third-party data leaks. "A national ID system gives the government unprecedented access to a huge cache of its citizens' personal data," said Mr Jamael Jacob, director of the University Data Protection Office at the Ateneo de Manila University.

"Any government with the ability to keep tabs on its population via an ID system also has the ability to resort to oppressive activities."

Representative Carlos Zarate of the Bayan Muna (Nation First) sectoral party said information keyed into the PhilSys card would be part of a centralised database that law enforcement agencies could tap to harass government critics.

Mr Zarate said the national ID database would also present a target for hackers, as there has been no guarantee of a "100 per cent safeguard" to the integrity of the information to be harvested.

But Senator Panfilo Lacson, principal author of the Bill, said concerns over privacy and data leaks were overblown.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 01, 2018, with the headline 'Philippine Congress ratifies national ID law'. Print Edition | Subscribe