THE NATIONAL IDENTITY CARD ACT’S AMENDMENT: A leap back for privacy rights

     The removal of the term: “biometric information” from the Act extracts it from Section 12, “Collection and processing of data to be subject to Data Protection Act.” With this amendment, your biometric data will not benefit from any special protection from the Data Protection Act as “sensitive data.” It will be considered simply as “personal data,” like your name and ID card number. In view of its circulation in the public and private sector, accessing your data through card readers and SAM cards, this will make your biometric data even more vulnerable than it is now.

     2(a)(ii) “fingerprint minutiae” is, for the first time in the NIC Act, specified as: “characteristics of a fingerprint image such as the ridge endings and ridge bifurcations;” Minutiae have unique characteristics. As rapid as developments in technology go, it is closer to the reproduction of a fingerprint and with wide circulation in the public and private sector, it potentially becomes easier to copy. Yet, “fingerprint minutiae” too does not appear in section 12 as being subject to the Data Protection Act as regards its sensitive nature.

     The amendment does not specify definitions for photographs and signatures. These are, what we believe, were referred to as “other biometric data,” by the Madhewoo Privy Court judgement, October 2016, the storage and retention as defined by the Supreme Court and Privy Council as “unconstitutional.” They remain stored in the government’s central database. Again, in this case, the removal of the term, “biometric data” is convenient for government.

     In amendment 3(f), it states: “authorise entities to use, solely for the purpose of identification, such devices as may be prescribed, equipped with SAM cards to read fingerprint images and fingerprint minutiae.”
The government maintained as justification that card readers are not used, in the Madhewoo Privy Council judgement, October 2016. Government held this, as one of its grounds, for fingerprint minutiae to remain on the card. Government is now going back on its commitment to it’s “holding position” used before the Privy Council.

     Why are both, “images” and “minutiae” terms used?” Is the amendment making provisions to also have fingerprint images on the card, able to be accessed by card readers?
“SAM cards” are defined in the amendment as a: “Security Access Module card which, when inserted in a card reader, provides security authorisation for reading data on an identity card.”
     The term “card reader” is defined as: “data input device used to read data electronically from an identity card.”
The Minister of TCI increases his powers in Amendment section (3) to:
(a) provide for the levying of fees and charges;
(b) prescribe card readers;
(c) prescribe SAM cards;
Why does the government need card readers and SAM cards when, by simply looking at the ID card, it is sufficient to establish someone’s identity? Would the fees and charges involve business interests? Will the population’s data, personal and biometric, become purchasable goods?

      (c)5(1)(i) The amendment states: “The holder of an Identity card shall be the sole owner of that card.” It is a strange kind of ownership where you cannot read what is contained on the chip on your own card. To use means of deactivating the chip is considered illegal. Is this not being branded rather than being an owner?

     No mention is made in the amendment about using other means of identification such as passports, driving licences, nor the dangers of the RDIF chip able to be read by a card reader from 10cm away. No repeal of any repressive laws are mentioned such as, the Minister can add any information “as may be prescribed” or the obligation to show your card to obtain any essential documents or services, except in: 3.(5)(e) where the amendment of Rs25,000 fine replaces Rs100,000 and 2 replaces 5 years’ imprisonment for not acquiring your ID card for which, incidentally, you become the sole owner of. As Deven T. caricatured it, “YOUR MONEY OR YOUR DATA!!!” “RANSOMWARE?” “NOPE! BIOMETRIC ID CARD!”

     With increasing concern about insecurity about the card and now with this heavy-handed amendment, we are observing and expecting parliamentarians to take a stand against the amendment and further, to support our demands in the petition. The population is making its voice heard through, a National online petition addressed to the Attorney General, the PM and the President.étition-nationale-carte-d-identité-biométrique/w?source_location=petition_show

And a constituency-based one addressed to parliamentarians:

Both petitions have the same 11 demands and other sections of Mauritian society are objecting to this law. The amendment puts salt in the wound of an already exasperated population.