Galleries more

Videos more

Dictionary more

Ten Questions LALIT puts to Minister Bhadain


Q 1: Mr. Bhadain, today, as we speak, is it not true that the Police Commissioner has all the powers of the Data Protection Commissioner to access all our personal data in the ID Card Central Database at Ebene? Does this not mean a defiling of the age-old democratic principle that the Civil Status records should never be under police control? Will the Police wait until some horrendous crime and pounce on an excuse to grab personal data from the civil status records, thus creating a Police State precedent?

 Q 2: Mr. Bhadain, if the State will no longer use the ID Card system for “identification” (i.e. pick out one face or fingerprint from a whole data-base, known as “one-to-many”) and will now only be used for “verification” (i.e. one-to-one checks with card-holder present), then what on earth is the use of stocking the photos of the entire population on your data-base in Ebene? What exactly are our photographs doing there? Why have they not been deleted as you promised, and as the two Supreme Court judgments called on Government to do five months ago, along with our fingerprints? The Madhewoo judgment says it is “not in dispute [that]... To get the new Identity Card, Plaintiff will have to provide biometric information, namely his fingerprints and photograph”. A photograph contains biometric information, the same way as an imprint of a finger is. Undisputed. Thus it must be destroyed.

 Q 3: Mr. Bhadain, why is the State continuing to store our fingerprints permanently in an electronic “read from a distance” (Radio Frequency Identification) chip on each of our ID Cards? Are our ID Cards not, despite what Minister Sinatambou said in Parliament, the property of the State? Property we are being forced to carry? Does the State not own the ID Cards, given that it can “de-activate” them at will? And it can check what is on the ID Card, while the holder cannot? What kind of an ownership is Mr. Sinatambou talking about? And do you not see that the Supreme Court judges in the Madhewoo case say, in the context of the storage of personal data that, “Witness Sookun gave expert evidence on behalf of the plaintiff as to the various types of risks and dangers ... [that] the new identity card can be read at a distance with available technological devices”. They were not talking about just the data-base.

 Q 4: Mr. Bhadain, while on the subject of the ID Card, itself, we have six other questions: 

(i) When a Government Department, a Bank, a notary, or any Tom, Dick and Harry that the law allows, makes us submit to a “verification” test by putting our fingers into a machine they will have acquired to check our fingerprints against our ID Card minutiae, how on earth is the State going to control that this person or organization does not stock my fingerprint data? Will the Data Protection Commissioner be required to ensure on a permanent, ongoing, day-to-day basis that this is not happening?

(ii) How is it that you pretend that storing “minutiae” is something so different from storing a fingerprint? Are both identification and verification not done through minutiae? Or does some machinery look at a fingerprint and say, “Ah, I recognize this one. It’s definitely Joe Blog’s!”

(iii) How can the ID Card belong to the holder when Minister Sinatambou says in the National Assembly that the holder can’t even give it to someone to fetch a pension, when ill? Clearly, it is property of the State, if this is so, is it not Mr. Bhadain? And how are all those sick and disabled people now going to fetch their pensions? What are we supposed to believe?

(iv) About the “all 10 fingerprints” issue when “only four” are used, Mr. Bhadain, could you tell us who is fooling us? When asked, Mr. Rama Rao Project Manager of the MNIC, said that it was just in case one’s forefinger and thumbprint changed through manual work, say, and one was desperate to prove one’s identity, then one could go to Ebene and check the other 6, and then prove “I am who I say I am!” Now that the central data base has been destroyed, however, this argument no longer holds. But 10 fingerprints are still being recorded. Of course, the new officer had to come up with a different argument. He said you, Mr. Bhadain, have a way of choosing the four “best” fingerprints. So, our question, Mr. Bhadain is, do you think we are imbeciles? When given two totally different reasons, the only question we can ask you is “What is the real reason?”

(v) Mr. Bhadain, do you think it logical that some private sector bank clerk can read the content of my ID card chip when I cannot? Or is this not absurd stuff out of George Orwell’s novel, 1984?

(vi) Do you think it is good that you still have a law in place 9 months after coming to power that allows you, as the State, to add any other information you like to the chip and the data-base?

 Q 5: Mr. Bhadain, why are you storing information in the Central Data-base for 7 days, instead of doing away with the central data base altogether, as you promised: “La Data Bank où les empreintes digitales et photos biométriques de la nouvelle carte d’identité nationale sont stockées sera détruite.” (Program of Lalyans Lepep, 2014.)

 Q 6: What amendments do you intend to bring to the Acts declared anti-constitutional?

- So as to ensure that the ID card is no longer compulsory? For 30 years one could have one, or not, as one pleased, and this caused no problem.

- So as to abolish prison sentences and fines for any infringement of the law? Or was it just a bluff, and you intend merely to decrease the sentences?

- So as to do away with the compulsion to present your ID Card to any police officer or anyone at all? Or was this also just hot air, and you intend just to make it illegal for a police officer to set up a rendezvous with a woman in the Company Gardens, to use your example?

- So as to do away with the punitive price of replacing a lost card?

- Mr. Bhadain, for 30 years, ID Cards had no address on them. Now, if your address changes, you have to inform the authorities, or face criminal charges. Do you intend to do away with this? Do you know how often battered women change address? Do people in and out of prison have to notify the authorities every time they move? Do people staying in hospital for long periods have to notify you?

 Q 7: Mr. Bhadain, does all the personal data you are storing in Ebene on the Central Database still have all those leakage points, including the long list that the Supreme Court was so alarmed and outraged to see? The judges said: “The above survey of the legal exemptions makes it manifestly clear that the personal data of individuals ... can be readily accessed in a large number of situations. What is even more alarming is the relatively low threshold prescribed for obtaining access to personal data. A striking illustration of that is the enactment ... whereby access may be obtained merely by invoking that the disclosure of the data is necessary for the purpose of obtaining legal advice. What is even more objectionable is the absence of any safeguard by way of judicial control to monitor the access to personal data”.

 Q 8:  Mr. Bhadain, have you perhaps failed to read the last line of the judgment in the Madhewoo case, which says: “(6) the provisions in the National Identity Card Act and the Data Protection Act for the storage and retention of fingerprints and other personal biometric data collected for the purpose of the biometric identity card of a citizen of Mauritius are unconstitutional.” What have you done in the past 5 months since this judgment to amend the Acts?

 Q 9: Mr. Bhadain, is it not better to institute a Commission of Enquiry into the Navin Ramgoolam contract with the Singapore Corporation than to introduce all the repression the ID Card system involves just because “it cost Rs1.2 billion”? Surely we can all just use the new cards already issued in the way the cards were always used from 1987?

 Q 10: Do you not think it is your duty to add a fourth progressive move after the three that have already been made over the past year or so, viz:

1) The Supreme Court judgments making the State’s retention and storage of personal data illegal and unconstitutional,

2) The judgments making compulsory fingerprinting of workers for attendance illegal,

3) The better practice (for verification) used by the Electoral Commission accepting one of many forms of identification in December 2014 general elections: a driving license, a passport, an expired ID Card, a bus pass, etc.?