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LALIT protest against biometric ID cards provokes immediate Government announcement


 Just as LALIT was gathering together a group of protesters against the ID Card in Port Louis yesterday, Wednesday 19 August, at the MNIC offices, and proceeding to hand over a letter to the Data Protection Commissioner, unbeknown to all of us in the LALIT-organized event, the Minister of Technology, Communication and Innovation, Roshi Badhain was announcing – as if off-the-cuff – to the MBC that as from Monday the centralized biometric data-base will finally be destroyed. It appears that the LALIT action, modest though it was, in calling for an Enquiry from the Data Protection Commissioner, Mrs. Drudeisha Madhub, was so finely tuned to work, that it has forced the Government to change its “communications strategy” on the issue and bring forward their announcement of the imminent destruction of the data-base before the State has even cobbled together a full explanation of what will happen next. The Minister also gave no account of what the reason was for the long delay. He was also confused as to whether the Government was implementing a pre-electoral undertaking or enforcing two Supreme Court judgments and deciding to respect a Supreme Court Injunction three months after it was issued.

LALIT’s letter to the Data Commissioner (see article just below this one for content) protested formally against the continued keeping of the centralized databank of biometric data despite the Supreme Court Judgements three months ago and against the continued taking of new biometric data even in the face of a Supreme Court Injunction not to do so. Clearly, the State would have been most embarrassed to have been investigated by its Data Protection Commission, or to have officers arrested for Contempt of Court.

So, the Minister, and his senior Civil servant, Mr. J.D. Phokeer, have quickly announced the closure as from Monday of the ID Card Centres in Port Louis, Rose-Hill and Port Mathurin until 14 September, while the data is finally being destroyed only 9 months after the Government came to power.

But the fact is that the Government as from Monday will destroy the risky data-base.

The wonderful news that the centralized data-bank is to be destroyed is somewhat tempered by the fact that the Minister was not at all clear on the following issues which remain problematic:

- How will the “fingerprint minutiae” that will from now on be used only for verification not for identification (i.e. comparing minutiae in one’s card with one’s own fingers on-the-spot somewhere) be taken? Will the fingerprints be converted to minutiae and printed on-the-spot when one applies? Or will they still be stored?

- Who will be granted authorization to insist on this identification process by means of fingerprint minutiae? In particular, will the private sector bosses have access to this kind of verification system?

- Will the law be changed to prevent police and other officers from having a permanent stranglehold over ordinary people? The existing law makes it compulsory for any citizen to have to produce his/her ID Card on-the-spot, of if not, at a time and at a place defined by the officer concerned. This makes the ID Card like a pass-law, or dog-license-medal.

- Will the card still be compulsory, still involve massive fines and massive prison sentences for any non-compliance – like not having one, not replacing a lost one, not informing of address changes or marital status changes, and so on?

As the motto of yesterday’s event put it: “Lalit kontinye!”

Meanwhile, the presence of the Singaporian technicians to help destroy the data-base once again reminds us of all the opacity around the allocation of this hefty Government contract and totally wasted public funds. Hiding behind a Government-to-Government secrecy, the Singaporian state company got the contract without any bidding process, and then proceeded to share it out to companies close to the Ramgoolam regime, including the BAI.

All of the brave people who followed LALIT’s call for a “go-slow” will not have exposed themselves to the risk – that obviously still exists – of biometric photos and biometric fingerprints being “out there” somewhere on the internet, or stored in some computer system somewhere, having been exposed to continued risk of a leak, hacking or sale, for up some 18 months. In addition, we can be proud to have helped limit the risk for everyone in the whole population by participating to bring about the destruction of the data-base. (See our article on 33 of our actions, with our allies on this issue.)

Present, for the record, at the action in Port Louis yesterday, in addition to LALIT members who took a day off work, were members of the Muvman Liberasyon Fam, four delegates from the Confederation of Independent Trade unions, the Centre Idriss Goomany and Playgroup.