Singaporeans must have the right to refuse surrendering their government-issued identity card (IC) to all and sundry. It is now demanded by merchants and service providers as a matter of course, never mind the confidential information on the card. Gym memberships, movie ticket payments and parking fee redemptions are hardly proper occasions for the IC's barcode to be scanned. Retaining it for trivial purposes is even worse.
In the absence of official intervention, it has become routine to gather citizens' data for the most flimsy reason. The vast majority of transactions do not justify the use of ICs. That would in effect be placing a barcode on people, and not just things, which anyone is free to read to get key information about them. Such practices must be stopped as they give short shrift to the intent of personal data protection legislation.
If businesses wish to pinpoint identity for minor matters, they could use, for example, initials coupled with a postal code, an e-mail address or a phone number. IC data should be collected only when the verification of someone's identity is required to a high degree of fidelity - as is the case for official matters, banking, real estate contracts, security and healthcare treatment.
In most other cases, sensitive information must be protected from intrusion. Privacy should be a cardinal principle of social interaction at a time when identity theft has become a fact of criminal life around the world. It is sobering that, over the past eight years, more than 7.1 billion identities worldwide have been exposed in data breaches. The more that is collected, the greater the risk that someone will try to use data wrongly.
Hence businesses must fall in step with efforts to secure identity by setting some rules about how the IC ought to be used. Individuals, on their part, must insist on their right to privacy in their encounters with organisations.