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Government Hits Go-Slow on Biometric ID Card Applications

08.12.2013

Sunday 1 December, LALIT held a “Teach-in Against the New Biometric ID Cards” at its headquarters in Grand River North West, as part of the process of organizing a go-slow. The session started with LALIT’s 7-minute YouTube clip, and then Lindsey Collen, presiding, did an up-date, concentrating on the hard time the Government is having implementing the project because of the passive resistance of the people. Poor Mr. Rao Ramah, the contractual “manager” of the project, is left all on his own to defend the project, she said. For ages, neither Prime Minister nor ICT Minister has opened his mouth to say one word to support their project. Over a month ago, when they did open their mouths, it was to expostulate totally contradictory facts. The PMO said “a” and the ICT Minister “b”, as the Kreol saying goes. Now at the end of the time for signing up for an ID Card for the under-22-year-olds, Mr. Rao Ramah, announces that “A majority” have signed up. Well, this means nearly half have refused. This means the go-slow is working.
Lindsey Collen explained how the entire Government time-table has been abandoned. They found the going so slow that now you no longer have to respect the cohorts-by-age that were first announced. Anyone can get a new card, if this makes it looks as if there are lots of people getting their cards. Anyone who has lost their card (the 300 people a day Ramgoolam announced there are), or anyone turning 18 and getting a first-ever card (maybe some 20,000 people), now has to go to the “conversion” centre. Originally “conversion” was only for those bringing in their old card, hence the name. Once again, because the going was so painfully slow, all these people are just being given new biometric ID cards. In addition, even the times of opening have been changed. After spending a fortune on announcing that the winter hours were 10 to 6 (8 hours), and summer hours 10:30 to 6:30 (8 hours), the Government announced that the hours had been “extended”. They have supposedly been extended to the new hours 9 – 5. Which, according to most mathematics, is also 8 hours. The campaign was originally in French, but has now switched to Kreol.

The three speakers, in order, came forward with succinct and witty papers.

Alain Ah-Vee spoke about the 3 main laws involved (i.e. the ID Card Act, the Civil Status Act, and the curious 2009 Finance Act) comparing and contrasting, as he spoke, the Government propaganda. The mismatch between the content of the laws and the content of the spin-doctoring is quite shocking.

Rada Kistnasamy said that, in the face of criticism, the Government would and sometimes did quote the “Data Protection Act”. But, he said, the Data Protection Office sits in the Prime Minister’s Office. It seems to be part of his “security desk”. How’s that for independence? he asked. He then said how various reassuring sections of the Act were plainly waived in special cases: national security, tax and crime. Well, those are very broad reasons for suspending the little protection one’s data has. He also said how the Data Protection Commissioner can by the stroke of a pen delegate all her powers to a police officer. How’s that for keeping the Data from the Police.

Rajni Lallah spoke on the different legal challenges to finger-printing and to the new Cards. She spoke of the gains made by the Pravind Jugnauth case. Judge David Chan said it is perfectly legal to use one’s old card until mid-September 2014, as the law states, thus making a go-slow possible. The case also pushed the Government to have to come up with retrospective “regulations” in order not to actually lose the case. The other case being brought by the No To ID Card team has so far shown the limitations of litigation in the face of political problems. Even the judgment of the Tribunal under the ICTA which the Data Protection Office has put on its site, and which calls on the police to act against the Alteo sugar bosses because of illegal finger-printing for attendance at work, is not all that reassuring. When the sugar bosses have appealed, the State Law Office has withdrawn its legal services from the Data Protection Commissioner.

After these talks, there was over an hour of debate, question and answer, and discussion on tactics and strategy.