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More News on Government Reaction to Resistance against the new Biometric ID Card

08.10.2013


The Government has, since the Lalit video film was made, taken some steps. So, here is a general update.

The Government announced officially that the replacement cost of cards is Rs350 for a first one (which represents more than half a day’s wage for nearly half workers in the country), then Rs700 (a day’s wage for half of us), then Rs1,000 (more than a day’s wage) for subsequent losses. These prices are infuriating people.

After taking biometric data from young people for three days, the Government passed a Regulation with retro-active effect, only then supposedly making it “legal” for the State to take the biometric data at all, and this, the very day before the Pravind Jugnauth Writ against the new ID Card came before Justice Chan in the Supreme Court.

And once the Supreme Court had made it clear that non-taking-out of your ID card is only an offense as of 15 September, 2014, the Government made an appeal for people to respect the timetable they have laid out. But this is purely voluntary. Everyone can decide to what extent they wish to bow down or to cow tow.

In Le Defi of 16 October, Mr. Rao Ramah, Project Coordinator of the ID database project, and now very much on the defensive, is quoted from a Radio Plus interview the day before. He says that the centralized data, including finger-prints, will be protected by the “Data Protection Act” and that only the Civil Status department will have access to the data. He is no more than a project coordinator, and is not responsible for the project, as the Ministers are. He is hardly in a position to re-assure us that the police will have nothing to do with the fingerprint data whatsoever, until the end of time. His reassurance is, in any case, most strange if you read what the Data Protection Act says. It gives incredibly wide powers to the Data Commissioner without specifying how he gets to be Data Commissioner in the first place. It then proceeds to announce concerning these powers that: “The commissioner may delegate any of his investigating and enforcement powers conferred upon him by this Act to any officer of his office and to any police officer designated for that purpose by the Commissioner of Police.” [Our use of bold type, for emphasis.]So, the Data Commissioner is, to all intents and purposes, a police officer. What guarantees can Mr. Rao Ramah give when that is what the law says. This is already the case, before there is any “derive” towards a more authoritarian State, which is the primary concern of all thinking people.

Mr. Ramah also claims that you don’t have to carry your new ID card under the new law. Well, he is prevaricating. It is not an offense not to carry it. But it is just as bad. The law absolutely forces any thinking person to carry their card. You can be asked to produce your card to “every person”. Beat that for a basic formula! “Every person” is then defined as anyone who “by law” can have access to your identity, or anyone who can reasonably demand proof of identity. If you do not carry your card, Mr. Ramah, you are then at the mercy of this person who has power over you, or claims to have power over you: he can “direct” you who to present it to, within what delay, and where to produce it. Then, if you do not, it will presumably be an offense covered by the hold-all clause of the National Identity Card Act, itself: “2) Every person who contravenes this Act or any regulations made under it shall commit an offence. (3) Every person who commits an offence under this Act or any regulations made under this Act shall, on conviction, be liable to a fine not exceeding 100,000 rupees and to imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years”.

The PMO should read what is on official sites about the previous Smart Card, which the Labour Government of 1995-2000 had set in motion, before issuing statements about what can or will not be on the present card in the future. It is reasonable to expect that what was to have been on the previous Smart Card may, in future, be included in this card. This is particularly likely when the I. D. Act no 18 of 2013 was specifically amended to allow for the inclusion of“such other particulars as may be prescribed”. The original smart card process, which was from 1997 to 2000, included arguments for its use for driving licensing and road traffic offences, for saving on the annual update of the Electoral Register and for accessing and streamlining education and health services. Today the Government policy, according to Xavier Duval, is to shift from universal benefits to a targeted “social register” of “the poor”. But how is Mr. Ramah supposed to have “the big picture”, when he is merely an employed project manager.

You will see how very near the previous Smart Card came to being introduced in 2000. Here is what the National Audit Office says: “The tender documents for the procurement of the new National Identity Card system were prepared by the Central Informatics Bureau (CIB) in collaboration with the National Computer Board (NCB) and other Ministries/Departments. The project was estimated to cost around Rs 230 million. Tender was launched in February 2000 and the offer of a joint venture for the sum of Rs 269,161,174 has been recommended for award. However, when the procurement exercise was on the point of being concluded, Government decided in August 2000, not to include fingerprints in the new Identity Card. Hence, the Central Tender Board was requested to stay action on the tender exercise. On 20 October 2000, Government decided to continue with the existing National Identity Card System.” [Our use of bold print, for emphasis.]

The Labour-PMSD-Transfuges Government is in a fork: if they back-pedal, they will lose face. If they plunge onward, they will most certainly lose more than face. They will lose the General Elections.

LALIT aligns itself with the MMM and MSM in calling for people not to give their fingerprints, or to take out new cards, until late next year. By then, we should have had the whole project repealed. Just as the project was repealed in 2000. It will save a lot of money to back-pedal now. And the money spent will not have been lost: thousands of Mauritians have thought about the importance of our freedom of movement, about how our identity is our own and not the property of the State, and how our privacy relative to the State, is important. And all these people have entered the debate. This is worth a great deal.