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Why LALIT opposes ID CARDS

14.10.2011


In all ex-colonies we know the experience of Passes - or identity cards as we now call them. They are the means by which the colonial State controlled individuals in servitude. If you were a freed slave or an indentured labourer in Mauritius , you had to carry a Card. You even had your ID tatooed on to your arm, a precursor of today’s under-the-skin electronic chips”. In the USA “slave Passes” were compulsory until 1865. In South Africa ID cards, or “Passes” were so unpopular that a massive “Anti-Pass Laws” movement was gradually built up as part of the anti-apartheid struggle. The ID cards were nick-named “dompas” meaning “stupid cards”.
The Mauritian Government has announced, once again, that it intends to introduce new “dompas” – now called “smart cards”. But changing the name of the Cards from “dumb” to “smart” does not make them less problematic. The Government plans to make the new Cards compulsory for everyone over the age of 15. This means even minors will be targetted by the State – both for individual control by the State and to add this data on underage children to a centralized data-bank of information for the State to store forever.
Government has announced that it intends to work with a Singaporian firm, which, for a start, gives an indication of the danger the Cards and their data-base represent for human rights and privacy. Singapore is a country of notoriously autocratic Government that limits rights and freedoms.
LALIT has in the past opposed ID cards. We still oppose them. As the Xavier Duval Budget speech approaches, we call on people to oppose any expense being allotted to planned new ID Cards.
Living people should not be reduced to having to carry a Pass. The State should not have the power over individuals to increasingly oblige us to carry a card in order to benefit from services or to be recognised by the private sector. Soon Police Officers will be calling on people to produce their ID cards, just in order to be allowed to circulate. Note how this already operates in practice in the real world: the completely voluntary, “constat a l’amiable” process is predicated on it being an offense not to carry your Drivers’ Licence, thus changing the balance of forces between vehicle drivers and police officers in the favour of police officers. Police can now stop you just to ask to see your license. In future, this can happen for ID Cards. Freedom of movement will come to be dependent on whether your Card is with you. Young people will be harrassed by Police. Anyone who has lost their card will risk losing their right to social services. In short “internal” Passes just give bureaucracies too much power over individuals. The “Big Brother” bureaucracy that George Orwell depicted so well will come to power, to watch over us as individuals, and to control us. We do not even know how awful the State and big corporations might become in the future, and yet we grant them such power over us?
The second level of problems is the data-base that the “smart cards” create. The State will be able to cross-reference data and thus control peoples’ lives in ways that we cannot begin to imagine. Health data will be available, perhaps, to future employers. Just as the FaceBook private company sells “data” on staff to employers for so many dollars per head per year, so companies that run and repair ID card machines will, as well as the State, have access to cross-referencing. People’s credit-rating will perhaps later be stored on the same card as their health records (just for convenience, they will argue!). If your child commits some minor offense, he or she will risk having this encoded forever on a card controlled by the State. The same for people who have ever had an “objection to departure”. What is not in the first generation of ID Cards may be introduced, once we are habituated, in the second generation.
In countries where there is corruption and in countries where there is a strong secret service, there is always the risk of a super-class of people with “multiple-identities”. If voting is done by ID Card, instead of by live party agents, electoral fraud which, at this level, has always been negligible, may become systematic. A ruling party that controls the ID machines could organize mass fraud, something which would be impossible with the present party agents system of checking.
We, in LALIT, are not alone in opposing ID Cards. Human rights activists world-wide have run massive campaigns against attempts by the UK , USA , Australia , Philippines , and French Governments to impose nation-wide ID cards, most of them successful. In the USA , the George Bush ID Card law has still not come in to force; at least 25 States now have legislation preventing such Federal ID cards coming into force. In the UK , where the public has always been against ID documents, they are still not compulsory -- following a big campaign against the Blair Government plan to introduce them. In Australia the campaign against the new ID Card stopped it altogether.
ID Cards are always described by the State as being merely for “easily identifying people” (to facilitate banking, transport, health care), or to stop “fraud” (in voting, pensions), or, in the USA , for “terrorists”. In some countries, Cards ensure that “immigrants” do not benefit from services. The Nazi Government was the all-time promoter of ID cards, so as to identify people who were Jewish, Gypsy, Communist, or any other supposed threat to the fascist State. Cards were later used for identifying who to send to a death camp. And the Nazi Government was one of the most corrupt of all times.
The gains in terms of easier identification, cutting fraud or spotting terrorists/foreigners are minimal, compared with the dangers provoked. The dangers, as we have seen, are for individual freedoms and for the risk of misuse of massive centralized data-banks. In Mauritius , this second point is very important. The State is very secretive, and we, the people, do not have access to information often kept a State secret. Information about oneself is not even available. There is still no Freedom of Information Act . And now we sit and watch the State gathering more “secret” material on us all?
And then there is the cost. The cost of the new cards is a gigantic 1.5 billion Rupees. This sum could much better be spent on job-creation, directly planned through the budget (direct investment in renewable energy plants, for example). The effects would be much better for everyone. Increased family income, less dependence on fossil fuels, less loss of foreign currency, and less petty crime.
Stop the new ID Cards!

Rada Kistnasamy,
For LALIT
12 October, 2011