Cases on the National Identification (ID) System – Part 2

This is the second part (read part 1 here) of our discussion relating to the recent talks on reviving the plan to implement a national identification (ID) system brings two cases back into the spotlight. In the first case, Ople vs. Torres, the Supreme Court struck down Administrative Order 308 which seeks to implement the “National Computerized Identification Reference System.” In the second case, Kilusang Mayo Uno vs. Director-General of NEDA, the SC upheld the validity of Executive Order 420 which adopts a unified multi-purpose ID system for government agencies.

Kilusang Mayo Uno vs. Director-General of NEDA (G.R. No. 167798, 19 April 2006, penned by Justice Carpio)

On 13 April 2005, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo issued Executive Order No. 420, directing all government agencies and government-owned and controlled corporations to adopt a uniform data collection and format for their existing identification (ID) systems. The EO was assailed as unconstitutional based on the same grounds used in the earlier case of Ople vs. Torres — EO 420 is a usurpation of legislative power by the President and that it is an infringement on the citizen’s right to privacy.

EO 420 is not a usurpation of legislative power

Section 2 of EO 420 provides, “Coverage. – All government agencies and government-owned and controlled corporations issuing ID cards to their members or constituents shall be covered by this executive order.” EO 420 applies only to government entities that issue ID cards as part of their functions under existing laws. These government entities have already been issuing ID cards even prior to EO 420. Examples of these government entities are the GSIS, SSS, Philhealth, Mayor’s Office, LTO, PRC, and similar government entities. Section 1 of EO 420 directs these government entities to “adopt a unified multi-purpose ID system.” Thus, all government entities that issue IDs as part of their functions under existing laws are required to adopt a uniform data collection and format for their IDs.

There is no dispute that government entities can individually limit the collection and recording of their data to the 14 specific items in Section 3 of EO 420. There is also no dispute that these government entities can individually adopt the ID format as specified in Section 3 of EO 420. Such an act is certainly within the authority of the heads or governing boards of the government entities that are already authorized under existing laws to issue IDs.

A unified ID system for all these government entities can be achieved in either of two ways. First, the heads of these existing government entities can enter into a memorandum of agreement making their systems uniform. Second, the President may by executive or administrative order direct the government entities under the Executive department to adopt a uniform ID data collection and format. Section 17, Article VII of the 1987 Constitution provides that the “President shall have control of all executive departments, bureaus and offices.” The same Section also mandates the President to “ensure that the laws be faithfully executed.”

The act of issuing ID cards and collecting the necessary personal data for imprinting on the ID card does not require legislation. What require legislation are three aspects of a government maintained ID card system. First, when the implementation of an ID card system requires a special appropriation because there is no existing appropriation for such purpose. Second, when the ID card system is compulsory on all branches of government, including the independent constitutional commissions, as well as compulsory on all citizens whether they have a use for the ID card or not. Third, when the ID card system requires the collection and recording of personal data beyond what is routinely or usually required for such purpose, such that the citizen’s right to privacy is infringed.

In the present case, EO 420 does not require any special appropriation because the existing ID card systems of government entities covered by EO 420 have the proper appropriation or funding. EO 420 is not compulsory on all branches of government and is not compulsory on all citizens. EO 420 does not establish a national ID card system. EO 420 does not compel all citizens to have an ID card. EO 420 requires a very narrow and focused collection and recording of personal data while safeguarding the confidentiality of such data. In fact, the data collected and recorded under EO 420 are far less than the data collected and recorded under the ID systems existing prior to EO 420.

EO 420 does not infringe on the right to privacy

The right to privacy does not bar the adoption of reasonable ID systems by government entities. All these years, the GSIS, SSS, LTO, Philhealth and other government entities have been issuing ID cards in the performance of their governmental functions. There have been no complaints from citizens that the ID cards of these government entities violate their right to privacy. In fact, petitioners in the present cases do not claim that the ID systems of government entities prior to EO 420 violate their right to privacy. Prior to EO 420, government entities had a free hand in determining the kind, nature and extent of data to be collected and stored for their ID systems. Under EO 420, government entities can collect and record only the 14 specific data mentioned in Section 3 of EO 420. In addition, government entities can show in their ID cards only eight of these specific data, seven less data than what the Supreme Court’s ID shows. Also, prior to EO 420, there was no executive issuance to government entities prescribing safeguards on the collection, recording, and disclosure of personal identification data to protect the right to privacy. Now, under Section 5 of EO 420, certain safeguards are instituted.

On its face, EO 420 shows no constitutional infirmity because it even narrowly limits the data that can be collected, recorded and shown compared to the existing ID systems of government entities. EO 420 further provides strict safeguards to protect the confidentiality of the data collected, in contrast to the prior ID systems which are bereft of strict administrative safeguards.

Ople v. Torres is not authority to hold that EO 420 violates the right to privacy because in that case the assailed executive issuance, broadly drawn and devoid of safeguards, was annulled solely on the ground that the subject matter required legislation. In contrast, EO 420 applies only to government entities that already maintain ID systems and issue ID cards pursuant to their regular functions under existing laws. EO 420 does not grant such government entities any power that they do not already possess under existing laws. The assailed executive issuance in Ople v. Torres sought to establish a “National Computerized Identification Reference System,” a national ID system that did not exist prior to the assailed executive issuance. Obviously, a national ID card system requires legislation because it creates a new national data collection and card issuance system where none existed before.

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