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Senate Economic Planning Office

December 2005

PI-07-05

National Identification System: Do We Need One?

Introduction

Running a government is no easy task. Law enforcement, service delivery and social security benefits availment entail voluminous documents that have compelled states to devise tools that simplify and manage these tasks. One such device is the establishment of a national identification (ID) system.

In the Philippines, several proposals though varied in scope and coverage, seeking to implement a national identification system have been filed in the Senate and in the House of Representatives. Recently, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo signed Executive Order 420 that requires all government agencies and government-owned and-controlled corporations to harmonize and streamline their identification systems. According to the EO, the purpose is to curb red tape in public transactions and attain efficiency in government operations.

strikes at the heart of a citizen’s relationship with the state and has profound consequences for social order.

Amidst all the rhetoric, it is best to analyze the arguments presented by each side to lend clarity to each claim. This paper discusses the changing rationale for an ID system. It also provides an account of policy issues and problems in laying the groundwork for an ID system, by examining the views of those who support and oppose such a proposal. A brief account of the United States’ experience is also provided. Finally, the paper argues that the government must not throw caution to the wind in putting up an ID system. The cost, policy and legal environment must be adequately studied so as to protect the citizens that it wants to serve.

The National Identification System and its Changing Rationale

As seemingly noble a goal as cutting red tape, a proposal to institute an ID system is a contentious issue. In the Philippines and elsewhere, civil libertarians, human rights advocates and militant groups have long claimed that an ID system violates a citizen’s intrinsic right to privacy and could very easily be used by the government to keep track of a citizen’s personal activities. In other words, it is a program that

In broad terms, a national identification (ID) system is a mechanism used by governments to assist public agencies in identifying and verifying the identities of citizens who are availing of government services or making public transactions. Usually, the citizen is assigned an identification number at birth or when he or she reaches legal age. Depending on the purpose for which the ID system was built, some countries include not only their citizens but also foreign

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