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LALIT addresses letter of concern to DPP on new biometric ID card

27.06.2014

LALIT, as part of its campaign against the new biometric ID cards, has written to the Director of Public Prosecutions to request him to make a public statement about criminal prosecutions under the new law being contended in the Supreme Court. Here is the totality of the LALIT letter: (Reply in the article above this one on the home page)


M. Satyajit Boolell, Director of Public Prosecutions
Garden Tower
Poudriere street,
Port Louis.

25 June, 2014

Dear Sir,
From 15 September, 2014, we understand that the new ID Cards will become compulsory by law. However, the law behind these cards involves matters that concern both human rights and democracy:

- The National ID Card Act of 2013 (Section 7) makes the new ID cards compulsory, and officers of all ilk will, it seems, be empowered to oblige Mauritians to present their ID cards, either on the spot, or within a delay the officer fixes. The punishment for non-compliance is up to five years imprisonment. This is obviously a threat to free movement, not curtailed in this drastic way since the end of Indenture about 100 years ago, when then, the punishment for failing to present a pass was not nearly as severe.

- The cards involve the compulsory finger-printing of the entire population, with a centralized data-base to be housed at the Government On-Line Centre. Once given, these fingerprints cannot be taken back; the risks of data leakage are immense, so even if the data is later destroyed, the damage may have been done. Giving fingerprints is thus irrevocable. This compulsory fingerprinting of the entire population is clearly a triple danger. First, there is the risk of the fundamental principle of “innocent until proven guilty” being undermined. The Data Protection Act, as you know, states that the Data Commissioner, who falls under the Prime Minister’s Office, can cede all her vast powers over any data in the country to a Police Officer. Second, there is clearly an infringement of corporeal integrity, a fundamental human right, when the State can force all its citizens to part with their fingerprints for no clear reason, and certainly without a Court Order. Thirdly, there is the question of privacy. This issue is exacerbated by the recent evidence that Government on-line sites are porous as sieves, and that a Minister said this is a “ti problem”. You do not even have to be a hacker, so poorly were the sites protected, to get hold of private information on citizens.

- The cards, which may turn out to be unconstitutional in their present form, involve massive expenditure and will continue to deplete public funds, and they may be being spent on items that turn out to be illegal.

Meanwhile, we note that in both the Alteo and the Clavis cases, the Data Commissioner has called on the Police to act against employers who use compulsory fingerprinting for attendance at work. While we realise that “attendance” is possibly more trivial a reason to impose fingerprinting, it is also true that the Executive arm of the State is forcing not just a relatively small group of people, but the entire population over 18 years old. The Marper case was cited by the Data Commissioner in her findings, and it should, in our view, also be applied to the ID card fingerprinting.

Most people have already made their applications and submitted to the humiliation of fingerprinting. It is safe to say that most people have furnished their finger-prints under duress. The duress is extreme: a threat of five years imprisonment, as well of course as endless “tracasserie” in getting one’s right to pensions, declaring births, entering marriage contracts, buying NHDC houses, declaring deaths, etc. Yet, many are taking part in a “go slow”.

There are at present three cases wallowing in the Supreme Court for months, although Section 10(8) of the Constitution clearly states that they should be given a fair hearing “within a reasonable time”. Reasonable time has expired. A fair hearing is hard to imagine when magistrates and judges have given their own fingerprints, prior to any judgment!
We write to you, against this background, regarding the criminal provisions concerning ID Cards. What do you, as DPP, intend, as from 15 September, 2014 to do if these Constitutional cases are still pending? It would be reasonable to assume that the cases will go on appeal, if lost. This means they may be pending, as you know, for a very long time, whatever the Constitution may say.

The punishment, if you do prosecute, can be expected to be draconian.

So, many citizens are in a difficult fork:

Either we hand over biometric data (in the form of fingerprints and special photographic portraits) – which may well be part of an illegal process and which, in any case, contributes towards the architecture of an autocratic State and, in the long run perhaps , even a fascist one, and our action, in so doing, is irrevocable,
OR
We risk imprisonment for 5 years.
We request you, because of the irrevocability of the furnishing of biometric data to the State, to make a public statement on this issue of national interest.
Yours sincerely,

Rajni Lallah
for LALIT