Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Fallacious Technophobia

he Supreme Court is responsible for a lot of the insane squabbling in this country. In 1998, it struck down a national computerized ID system in Ople vs. Torres on moot and academic grounds that would make even Computer Dummies laugh. Reading it made me chuckle (nyuk, nyuk!) at the honorable Court's turn-of-the-century technophobia -- the true source, it turns out, of its fallacious reasoning in this matter! "The power of the computer" the Court warns darkly, would give the government "the power to compile devastating dossiers against unsuspecting citizens" and the delivery of government services is just a pretext for it to gain such omniscience. Like they never heard of Google or Yahoo! From Justice Puno's ponencia:
The right to privacy is one of the most threatened rights of man living in a mass society. The threats emanate from various sources-- governments, journalists, employers, social scientists, etc.[88] In the case at bar, the threat comes from the executive branch of government which by issuing A.O. No. 308 pressures the people to surrender their privacy by giving information about themselves on the pretext that it will facilitate delivery of basic services. Given the record-keeping power of the computer, only the indifferent will fail to perceive the danger that A.O. No. 308 gives the government the power to compile a devastating dossier against unsuspecting citizens. It is timely to take note of the well-worded warning of Kalvin, Jr., "the disturbing result could be that everyone will live burdened by an unerasable record of his past and his limitations. In a way, the threat is that because of its record-keeping, the society will have lost its benign capacity to forget."[89] Oblivious to this counsel, the dissents still say we should not be too quick in labelling the right to privacy as a fundamental right. We close with the statement that the right to privacy was not engraved in our Constitution for flattery.

IN VIEW WHEREOF, the petition is granted and Administrative Order No. 308 entitled "Adoption of a National Computerized Identification Reference System" declared null and void for being unconstitutional.
Yet, computerized access to a wealth of information on everyone and everything is a FACT of Life in the 21st Century. Nay a necessity. Even the Supreme Court is computerized, susmaryosep! This technological capability is largely a boon to mankind, even if it can be abused like anything else. But computers don't spy on people, people do! But since computers are already indispensable and ubiquitous, evil doers in government don't need a National ID system as an excuse to start "compiling devastating dossiers on unsuspecting citizens"!

I suppose the kindest thing that can possibly be said is that even in 1998 the Supreme Court could have googled for the word "privacy" and discovered a whole world transformed by the Computer Revolution and the World Wide Web of networks. The Decision is quaintly overawed by the "record keeping power" of the computer, romantically and nostalgically describing it as the loss of society's "benign capability to forget." This was the stuff of sci fi novels and Twilight Zone episodes around the middle of the last century. What's really happened is What's really happened is that our ability to collect data has far, far outstripped our ability to make any sense of it!

The Decision's reasoning is not merely sophomoric irrelevance, it is sophomoric ignorance of how the Rights of Privacy are practiced, attacked and defended in the Information Age, and of the common-sense need for the Government to know who, exactly, it is delivering some basic service too, such emergency medical care, or transacting some official, public business with, such as the issuance of a passport, a voter id, a business permit or accepting suggestions and comments from the citizens.

I believe a National ID system can be justifiedon Constitutional principles of Civil Liberties, Social Justice and Common Sense Fairness. The Constitution is a SOCIAL CONTRACT between two PARTIES: first the People, and second the Government. This Social Contract specifies the Rights and Duties of both Parties to each other, how the Public Sector is selected by the Private Sector, how the State governs, protects and serves the People. In every contract, the Parties clearly identify themselves!

Never mind that every credit card company, bank, the SSS, GSIS, Comelec, DMV, school and business operates on some kind of computerized ID system (unless it's the Quaker Flat Earth Society) -- the High Court ruled in 1998 that computerized a national ID system would be an intolerable invasion of privacy because the govt will be "pressuring" the citizens to "give up their privacy" by divulging exactly what their name is and perhaps where they live. Now I must admit, I am such a fundamentalist about civil rights myself that I think no one can be forced to divulge even such elementary information without just cause and that ANY identification system should be voluntary (participants must OPT IN).

The Rights of Privacy in the 21st Century must include more than the Right TO Privacy, which is the famous right to be left alone. I like to think that ALL of our fundamental rights to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness (which includes a lot of things!) are Rights of Privacy, because they belong to us as private individuals, for whom these rights are "God-given" and therefore cannot be arbitrarily taken by the Government.

I would venture to guess that in 99.99% of the cases, Filipino citizens will gladly "surrender a particle of their right to privacy by divulging their name and ID Number, should they happen to require emergency police or hospital services because of some disaster, accident, terrorist attack, or free government dole-out. However, there is really no need for the Government to insist that anyone do so, just in case there ARE any complaints by persons not wanting to divulge who they are, for some reason. But perhaps the Supreme Court should have practiced what it often preaches and weighed the interests of the likely 99.99% against those who've need to remain incognito and have nothing to do with the government except on an anonymous basis, for some reason. Such reasons need not be divulged, as the rights of privacy are sacrosanct. The rights of privacy are indeed fundamental (though the Mass Media Right to Know - it- alls might dispute this!).

The practical reason for a National ID system mentioned in the assailed Order of Fidel Ramos--to facilitate the delivery of public services and information by govt to the citizens -- seems eminently reasonable and justified, whereas the melodramatic fears of "the power of the computer" expressed by the Court as the reason for its Opinion, are decidedly comical and nonsensical, or at best moot and academic, given the reality of Google, Yahoo, YouTube, Facebook, AGB Nielsen, and the Internet. Besides, the computerization and networking of all government operations was mandated by law in 1998 with the E-Commerce Act (one of the first laws signed by Joseph Estrada).

Finally, even assuming arguendo that a computerized National ID system represents an absoloute reduction in our Right to Anonymity, that reduction is so slight and occurs quite inexorably in the many other necessary modern contexts anyway, that rejecting the obvious and countervailing benefits on that basis indeed boils down to Technophobia. Fear of information in the Information Age is no way to be!

Meanwhile, Rina Jimenez David is disturbed, very disturbed, after watching Will Smith's new sci fi horror flick in which most of humanity has been turned into flesh eating vampire zombies by a Genetically Modified Organism (what else?). Well at least she didn't just cut and paste the latest anti GMO propaganda sheet from her buddies at Greenpeace. She went to a movie first before writing the demurely entitled "Science and Humanity".


Mickey C. said...

Dear Rina Jimenez David,

"I Am Legend" is a work of FICTION and is a MOVIE. But since you are such a sensitive sort, you may want to see "Soylent Green", "Planet of the Apes" and "Logan's Run", just to round out your education on dystopian futures.


Amadeo said...

Good timely issue, Dean. But I say not unique or localized in the old homeland. Even here, many people worship a god they hardly know or can properly define, and that would be Privacy. So far the best approximation of a national ID here would be the SS card issued and required of all tax-paying residents and their minors. Wouldn’t that do over there, or maybe expand it to include issuance to minors being claimed as dependents?

BTW, because Soylent Green which starred Charlton Heston was mentioned in the above comment, the current movie, I Am Legend, was based on the same book of the same title as an earlier movie, Omega Man, which also starred Heston.

ricelander said...

Most people in the legal profession I know are technophobes, or at least have very minimal appreciation of technology, won't even touch a computer if they could help it. Should you find rare ones who love technology, they're most likely non-practitioners of the profession.

I have a relative, four-time flunker of the Bar, he's a computer wiz.

Just an observation in my tiny space...

manuelbuencamino said...


Didn't the Court strike down the national ID system because a law not a mere administrative order is required for its implementation?

I am not against a national ID. It's really more convenient especially if it will replace the need for a separate driver's license, an SSS or GSIS card, a voter's ID and all that.

We just need some safeguards to protect those info that are deemed personal. That means we have to define personal. But that's another topic.

Now as an anti insurgency tool the national ID in Indonesia and Malaysia works this way - any time one changes his address/place of residence the change must be reflected in the ID under pain of law. I think that's good not only in terms of voting but also for demographic tracking.

Nonongg said...

Hi Dean,
This is the basis of the SSN as it should be "borrowed" by the National ID implementers (should be the BIR and not the AFP)
Note: One should not make too much of the "geographical code." It is not meant to be any kind of useable geographical information. The numbering scheme was designed in 1936 (before computers) to make it easier for SSA to store the applications in our files in Baltimore since the files were organized by regions as well as alphabetically. It was really just a bookkeeping device for our own internal use and was never intended to be anything more than that.

Anonymous said...

Malaysia also tracks the religion you are born into.... so this Muslim woman finds out that she is NOT ALLOWED to marry a Presbyterian.
Let Rina write about that!!!!

tiki said...

I'm not against a national ID system but there are other additional points to consider when it comes to techonology used for IDs, for elections, and so forth. For example,