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Concerns Remain on Biometric data in the amended ID Card System

14.09.2015

 With the re-opening today of the ID Centres after their temporary closure, Rajni Lallah went to apply for a new ID Card, but without agreeing to give her fingerprints. (Of course, they refused her application.) Below is a copy of the letter Rajni Lallah then sent to the Data Protection Commissioner, Mrs Drudeisha Madhub, today 14 September.


Dear Madam,


 Re: Request of 30 August, 2015 for you to Conduct an Inquiry into ID Card Data


 


This letter is a follow-up on our letter of 30 August, in which we called upon you to inquire of your “own motion” (proprio motu) into the data protection of all citizens, following the Supreme Court injunction and judgments.


 Today 14 September, 2015, at about 9:30 am, I went to the National Identity Card Centre (which is now in charge of the MNIC) in the Emmanuel Anquetil Building, Port Louis to apply for a new ID Card. This new attempt follows the re-opening of the National Identity Card Centres today, after their closure following the two Supreme Court judgments (in the Jugnauth and Madhewoo Cases), which, inter alia, declare the “retention and storage” of biometric data illegal and unconstitutional. The Jugnauth judgment also issues a Permanent Writ of Injunction against the State storing personal biometric data under the present legal framework.


 When I was ushered in, I was taken directly to the counter that takes fingerprints and photographs. I was asked to give all 8 fingerprints and two thumb-prints. I politely expressed concern, and stated that I wanted reassurance that the data was not being retained or stored.


 The officer at the counter then called upon Mr. Pravin Lutchugadoo, the Operation and Support Co-ordinator in the Management Support Office in MNIC, which now falls under the Ministry of Technology, Communications and Innovation. The entire conversation between Mr. Lutchugadoo and myself was cordial.


 At a certain point, he told me that he cannot answer on “legal” or “technical” issues, but only on “operations”.


 I wish to put on record at this point, that I have not as yet had any satisfactory reassurance from any other source on legal issues, or technical issues – especially concerning the retention, storage and transmission of biometric data. I also wish to put on record that the MSM, as a political party, originally agreed with the Labour Party ID Card Bill when it went through, and only later took a stand against the procedures, put in the Jugnauth Supreme Court Case, and placed the issue on their electoral agenda. All this to say that there is reason for my concern.


 Here, in point form, is what was explained to me on “operations”:


 1. All data taken at the MNIC will be sent “automatically”, “electronically” to the Ebène Data Centre. It will not be stored in the Emmanuel Anquetil site. However, no “legal” or “technical” reassurance could be given.


 2. Biometric fingerprint data will, in fact, be “retained” in Ebène Data Centre, and presumably “stored”, until the data is converted into minutiae and the individual’s ID card is “dispatched”. Then, by an automatic, electronic procedure the fingerprint data will be destroyed. He estimated that the data would be destroyed within some “2 to 5 days”, and the ID card handed over within a week. Mr. Lutchugadoo repeatedly reassured me that the Supreme Court Usher had supervised the destruction of the data-base that existed before the temporary closure of the MNIC offices, and since I was not asking about that, I deduce that the Usher is giving a guarantee not only for the destruction of the data-base for some 900,000 citizens, but that the new ongoing process of destruction, day by day, will continue to happen from now on. (These are issues that may well be beyond the expected technical competence or even legal competence of any Usher, however senior he may be.)


 3. Concerning the biometric photograph, Mr. Lutchugadoo, stated that the same equipment as before is still being used, but that the photograph will no longer be “biometric”, but a JPEG file. There will still be the lines on the photograph across the card-holder’s face. This, he said, was to “protect it”. This is surprising, as one of the weaknesses of the Card, is the unrecognisability of the photograph on it.


 4. All mention of an “affidavit” to be sworn by each National Identity Card applicant seems to have evaporated.


 5. It is, curiously, only after having one’s fingerprints have been taken and one’s photograph taken at what is called “Registration”, that one is then confronted with a “Declaration Form”. This “declaration form” contains a clause whereby one gives agreement, or consent, to a fingerprint being recorded and processed. So, the “consent form” seems to be back under a new name. The form must be signed “electronically” with either a signature or a thumbprint on-the-spot. No copy of what one has signed “can” be given, he stated. He could not even provide me with a copy beforehand. He did not even read it word-by-word to me. He explained that it can only be read at the “verification” stage (i.e. after the “Registration” stage). This is of concern. He explained that it has been “gazetted”. The Government Gazette is not available on line, nor to non-subscribers. It is possible that it is the very same “consent form” that caused so much outcry in the Press.


 I have not included any statements, later retracted in the course of our conversation, made by Mr. Lutchugadoo.


 We note that, although the National Assembly has been sitting, the executive has brought no legal framework changes, following the Supreme Court judgments and the Permanent Injunction.


 Please would you be kind enough to keep us, or alternatively the public, informed of the progress in your Inquiry.


 Yours sincerely,


 Rajni Lallah


For LALIT