You might have thought that last week's news that the UAE is to embed ID cards in mobile phones was bad enough but Indonesia has gone so much further down the BIg Brother route with its latest wheeze - it wants access to individual bank accounts. Martyn Warwick reports.
Indonesia's 237 million citizens (and counting) are to be required to carry not one but two national ID cards. The first, the innocuously entitled "e-ID", will carry all the usual information so-beloved of state security and police agencies including the fingerprints and iris scans of holders.
The e-ID programme was introduced in the Spring of last year and although it is well under way it is a long, long way behind schedule. The entire nation is supposed to hold the new ID card by the end of this year but only 67 million people will get it by then - leaving 170 million outside the scheme for the forseeable future. Not much use really, as far as the government is concerned anyway.
Whilst the e-ID initiative was in process, the powerful Indonesian police (and allied agencies) demanded that the ID card should be expanded to include a mass of other data. It proved impossible to adapt and retro-fit the e-ID card system to encompass their "requirements" and so some bright spark came up with the idea of a second ID card.
The National Police Criminal Investigation Division's pet project is the Indonesia Automatic Fingerprint Identification System (INAFIS) card. The information on this monstrosity will, of course, include fingerprint and other biometric data, the holders name, photo, date of birth (as does the e-ID card) plus driving licence details, vehicle documents, licence plate numbers and bank account details!
All of this data will be held on vast government-controlled centralised database and will, as Commander General Sutarman of the National Police Criminal Investigation Division put it, "be combined with information gathered in the development of the government’s e-ID system.” Now, does that set your antennae atwitch and alarm bells ringing?
Presumably mindful of the possibility of some social disquiet at the coach and horses this proposal will drive through Indonesia's battered and tattered notion of the civil rights of its citizenry, the INAFIS card is getting the soft sell - for the time being.
Thus it is being presented to the populace as a patriotic thing to do - as carrying the card will permit citizens to "do their civic duty and interact more efficiently" with the police and other law enforcement agencies.
To sugarcoat what is almost certain to prove to be a very bitter pill as the years roll by, the INAFIS card is (for the moment) not compulsory f - but you can be assured it will become so in due course. The powers-that-be are even giving away the new cards to volunteer guinea-pigs but those who come to the party late will have to pay to have their privacy invaded. The cards will each cost 35,000 Indonesian Rupiahs. Indonesian wages are amongst the very lowest in Asia.
If you believe Commander General Sutarman the intent behind the new cards is nothing more than the best-intentioned benign paternalism as the technology will allow victims of crime to have their cases dealt with much more quickly than obtains in the current Kafka-esque bureaucracy that bedevils and is so much a part of the everyday life of the mass of the Indonesian populace.
However, Indonesia has a history of dictatorial regimes, military coups and authoritarian leanings and is hardly a prime example of commitment to the protection of democracy and the rights of individuals. With the regime and legal system about to hand temselves given a hugely powerful new tool like the INAFIS card, "mission creep" is assured.
Listen to what Brigadier General Bekti Suhartono says of the looming INAFIS regime and then extrapolate from that. “A simple example would be when dealing with a person who has just violated a traffic rule. The person doesn’t have to give his fine to the court. The state can automatically withdraw the amount from his or her bank account.”
A nightmare in the making, for sure - but it's all so far away so why would we in the West need to worry?
Just ask Tim Berners-Lee, the man who invented the World Wide Web. In an interview printed this morning in the UK's "Guardian" newspaper. He says his greatest concern is "attempts by governments to tighten their control of or spy on the internet" to the point that "dangerous new laws" will result in "a destruction of human rights".
Sir Tim adds, that the collection, collation and manipulation of "huge amount of highly intimate information" will be "vulnerable to theft or release by corrupt officials.". Of course that could never happen in Indonesia could it? Or the US, Europe, Australasia or China.
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