CHR to LTO on Radio Frequency Identification (RFID Project): Thoroughness in Preparation Before Hasty Implementation
The continuing debate over the propriety of the Radio Frequency Identification Project of the Land Transportation Office has spurred many sectors to vigorously oppose its implementation. Among many concerned sectors, human rights advocates have expressed concern over the potential for abuse in the handling of the data and information in relation to the right to privacy.
“There are many obvious benefits to the implementation of the proposed RFID Project. We recognize how it may facilitate the functions of the LTO, especially in relation to colorum and unregistered vehicles,” the CHR Chairperson Leila De Lima said. “However, implementation must be preceded by preparations that are both thorough and above-board in all respects. Concerns not only in relation to the human rights aspect of the project, but to other issues as well such as transparency, necessity, protocol, must be addressed squarely and satisfactorily.”
In a recently issued Advisory CHR(IV) A2009-009 dated 23 October 2009, the Commission on Human Rights quoted Justice Jose Vitug's separate opinion in the National ID System case, to wit:
“The great strides and swift advances in technology render it inescapable that one day we will, at all events, have to face up with the reality of seeing extremely sophisticated methods of personal identification and any attempt to stop the inevitable may either be short-lived or even futile. The imperatives would be instead to now install specific safeguards and control measures that may be calculated best to ward-off probable ill effects of any such device.”
The same Advisory reminds us that the CHR had initially opposed the National ID System proposed under Administrative Order No 308, for the reason that safeguards and parameters in relation to the handling of captured information were noticeably absent. Not surprisingly, when the subject of streamlined government identification cards were again at issue under Executive Order No. 420, but this time with sufficient standards relating to the security of the information database, the necessity of the information germane to the purpose of the Order, the CHR supported the measure.
The 24 October 2009 Advisory explains, “the right to privacy covers a much broader scope than simply the privacy of communications. All government intrusions or arbitrary interference into the private affairs of persons must be sanctioned by law.” Furthermore, the law must not be contrary to the provisions of international law. The CHR Advisory reads that the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights “intended to guarantee that even interference provided for by law should be in accordance with the provisions, aims and objectives of the Covenant and should be, in any event, reasonable in the particular circumstances.”
For the RFID Project to pass scrutiny, first, it must not be an unlawful or arbitrary interference in privacy. Second, the information required must be relevant and limited to the purposes of the interference. Third, even if the interferences may not be unlawful nor arbitrary, the same must still pass the test of reasonableness. Lastly, the security of the data gathered from the citizens must be kept sancrosant.
Further, the Guidelines for the Regulation of Computerized Personal Data Files adopted by the United Nations (UN) General Assembly on December 14, 1990 provided for several principles concerning the minimum guarantees that should be provided in national legislations. Among them are the principles of Lawfulness and Fairness, Accuracy of Information, Interested-person Access, Non-Discrimination, Security and Supervision and Sanctions.
In order for the RFID Project to meet the standards of scrutiny, the Resolution puts forth the following recommendations:
1. For the Land Transportation Office to conduct the necessary broad-based public consultations and dialogues on RFID technology, its applications, benefits as well as challenges and encourage its deeper understanding with all possible stakeholders;
2. For the Land Transportation Office, in close coordination with all stakeholders – both government and non-government, craft the necessary guidelines for the application of the RFID technology taking into consideration all human rights standards under international and national laws and ensure its widest dissemination possible; and
3. For Congress, to look into the possibility of enacting a law elaborating on the right to privacy and the proper handling of personal information by responsible government agencies.
From the Advisory, the Commission on Human Rights “admits that technology is a fact of life to which we must adjust as long as its application, and seeming intrusion, into the domain of privacy is reasonable.”
Notably, even the Supreme Court concedes that “the right to privacy does not bar all incursions into individual privacy. . . [only that such] incursions into the right must be accompanied by proper safeguards and well-defined standards to prevent unconstitutional invasions.”
However, the Advisory states, “we have yet to see the law, and its corresponding rules and regulations, that adopt the use of RFID technology in vehicle registration and identification. To date, we are all at a loss as to the application of this technology. Neither laws nor rules have yet been publicly presented.”