LALIT members are visiting village councillors in the 130 or so villages of Mauritius, and giving them copies of an open letter and a series of FAQs. The Kreol versions are also in the “News” Section. Here is the text of the letter in English.
23 December, 2013
We, in LALIT, write to call on you, as a leader at Village or Town level, to take a stand against the new biometric ID cards. These ID cards bring into being a huge data-base, including everyones’ finger-prints. The State can in future use and abuse this information in ways it is hard to predict. Now, as 2014 begins, is the moment to work hard so as to get this whole wasteful project scrapped. Just as it was scrapped in the UK. We must get its whole legal framework repealed, too. Our privacy is important. And what is more private than our own finger-prints? Our freedom to circulate without a “pass” is vital. Or are we going back to the times of slavery and indenture, when our movements were controlled by the State?
We must warn people about the dangers, tell them not to rush into anything and explain that they have until mid-September 2014 (See ID Card Act, Sec 10A). Then each citizen can take his/her own decision.
Here are some of the facts: If we do not get this project scrapped, ID cards will, for the first time as from September 2014, become compulsory. In addition, we will have to present our ID card to any police officer who demands it; we have to present it either on-the-spot, or within a time-frame he determines, to whoever he specifies, at a place he designates. So this new ID card will change the balance-of-forces between ordinary people and the police. The new ID card is a step towards a Police State. The PT-PMSD Government has put a drastic Rs100,000 fine and even a 5-year prison sentence for infringement of these draconian new laws. These are all reasons to get the project revoked.
It is important to stress that it is possible to get the new ID card system abolished. It is possible not only because it has already happened in the UK, USA and Australia (for example), but also because we have experience of similar victories in Mauritius. In the past, we in LALIT succeeded in getting the law that had destroyed Village Councils repealed. We succeeded in getting universal pensions re-instated. We succeeded in getting food subsidies brought back. All this, through the kind of grass-roots mobilization we are now calling for. We mean mobilization at the level of local political leaders, like yourself. We must get this new biometric data-base destroyed. And we must do it by democratic means. We must act now, so that no future Government (perhaps in 15 years’ time) puts this centralized data to very bad use. We must revert to the same type of ID cards we have had since 1986, if made of “better” materials.
It is time to mobilize. Ordinary citizens are already hesitant to give all this information, including fingerprints, to the State. This, even though they are not necessarily informed about the dangers this kind of “surveillance” can pose. It is really up to us, as political leaders, at the local and national level, to guide ordinary citizens. We need to inform them of the dangers so that they can take their own decision.
As you have probably realized, nearly half of all young people have NOT taken their new ID cards yet. This indicates that there is passive resistance already.
Government has, in “debandad” had to change its time-table, amend its hours of work, and make its “conversion centres” issue cards to 18-year olds who have no card to “convert” and to those who have lost their old card. All these “sauve qui peut” arrangements are in response to the spontaneous go-slow. Then the Government went to the bosses, using “mobile units” on work sites to get employees to take up new ID cards, like Princes Tuna and Thon des Mascareignes. But an overwhelming majority of workers refused. Then the Government distributed leaflets in public in Ebene. Then the ID Card office set up a stall at Infotec at SVICC, Pailles. Now it has announced “road shows” to “sell its product”.
As soon as masses of people began to oppose the new biometric ID Cards, LALIT found that other political parties followed in our footsteps, also standing up against the new cards and data-base. The MSM and MMM, as well as Rama Valayden, have taken stands against. There are a number of Court cases, which we should be careful not to rely too heavily on, even though they are important. For example, the Pravind Jugnauth case brought it into public knowledge that the law stipulates that our old ID cards are definitely still legal until mid-September, 2014. This breathing space makes popularizing the go-slow much easier. Victory depends on political mobilization. It depends on making the Authorities unpopular for going ahead with this measure. Victory will be a political one, not a legal one.
If you would like a meeting with a couple of our members in the new year to discuss these points, please contact us on 208-2132, 208-5551 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Meanwhile, visit www.lalitmauritius.org and go through our “news” section for articles on the new ID Cards. And watch LALIT’s YouTube clip. Just go to www.youtube.com and then type “ID KARD Mauritius”. And do have a happy New Year!
FAQ’s (Frequently Asked Questions)
Q: What “mo-dord” is best for people who are against giving all this data, including finger-prints, to the State?
A: ‘Do not rush!’ Go slow! Use your old ID Card as the law allows you to until as late as possible, mid-Sept, 2014 (National ID Card Act, Section 10A).
Q: What will happen if I do not apply for a new ID Card according to the time-table for my age-group?
A: Everyone has until mid-September, 2014 to apply for a card. This is in the law. It’s a fact. The time-table is just a practical guide. Judge Chan confirmed this in Court: the old cards are perfectly legal until 15 September, 2014.
Q: After 15 September, 2014, what will happen if I have not taken up a new ID Card?
A: This depends. If we succeed and the Government back-pedals, obviously nothing will happen. They may well do what PM David Cameron did in the UK: destroy the databank, scrap the ID cards. Or, they may revert to the old cards without fingerprints, and with no obligation to present the card to the police. So, we must convince enough people not to take the cards. Then, about August next year, we all take stock and decide. Campaigns of passive resistance like this one, like the Gandhi cam¬paigns in South Africa against finger-printing, are flexible to be able to win. And they can and do win. But after 15 Sep, 2014, there is a risk of serious repression: Rs100,000 fine or 5 years’ prison. This explains our mo-dord of “Do not rush! Use your old ID card until the last minute!”
Q: I am 18 years old and have not got an old ID Card. What should I do?
A: People who have not yet got a card who find that they urgently need one, will have to take out the new card. This does not mean they do not have the right to speak out against the card at the same time.
Q: I have lost my old ID card, but I do not want to give my finger-prints for a new one. What should I do?
A: You are in the same position as someone who has not yet got a card. Try and hold out as long as possible without a card. But if you badly need one, then you will have to apply. You can still speak out against, though.
Q: My boss says the ID Card Mobile Unit will come to our work-site. Can he force me to take the new ID card?
A: No, the boss cannot force you to. You have until mid-September, 2014. So, take your time.
Q: How the centralized data protected from abuse?
A: The Data Protection Office is the only protection. But it is far from independent. It is in the Prime Minister’s Office. The Data Commissioner can at any time give all and any of his/her powers to the Police. Our personal data is clearly not protected from political or police inteference. And hackers are notoriously brilliant at hacking into such data-bases.
Q: My boss already controls attendance at work through a digital fingerprint machine. Is this legal?
A: There is a judgment from the Data Protection Commissioner that it is illegal for a boss to force workers to give their fingerprints for attendance. She has called on the police to act against the Alteo sugar estate bosses for this illegal practice. The bosses have appealed to the ICTA Tribunal. The law says finger-printing cannot be compulsory. Clavis Primary School has been taken to Court by staff over issues around finger-printing, too. Up till now, only a convicted criminal’s fingerprints can be forcibly taken; a Court Order is needed even for an accused in a serious crime.
Q: I am afraid to give my fingerprints and other data to the State in case I cannot take it back?
A: This fear is perfectly rational. How will you take them back? Rather you join the go-slow!
Q: What will the cards be used for later? What informa¬tion can in future be stored in the data-base?
R: Three Ministers give conflicting stories on this. The PMO says that there will not be additional information stored on the cards or kept in the data-base over and above what is already on them now. The Minister of ICT says other information about you will be linked in: medical records, driving licence, blood group, voting. The Labour Minister says the Courts will use the ID card. Terrifyingly, the law says “any other particulars” can be included in the future.
Q: How much does the project cost Government?
A: The British ID Cards were abolished because of invasion of privacy and protest against the central data-base; but also because of the sheer cost of running the thing. They called it “Not throwing good money after bad” , meaning the initial expense was bad enough, and the best thing to do was to cut losses, and get out fast. Here, Government has used the figure of Rs 1.1 billion, just for the set-up. But it is not clear what this sum covers. Ramgoolam did not follow proper tender pro-cedures as it was “Government-to-Government” with Singa¬¬pore. But, the Singapore Government gave out sub-contracts to two private firms, who promptly gave sub-sub-contracts to Mauritian companies. This may turn out to be the traditionally Labour company, Leal Communication & Informatics, who already have the Driving Licence Counterpart contract. There are other sub-sub-contracts with small companies, also close to Labour. At the Conversion Centres there are civil servants as well as private contractors’ workers. Are all the wages included in the Rs 1.1billion? The 24-hour-police guard, for example, is it paid for out of the Rs1.1 billion, or not? Mr. Rao Ramah, the project manager’s salary, is it included in the Rs1.1 billion? How much is it?