Cases on the National Identification (ID) System

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. Let’s discuss each case, in the hope of giving our readers a brief overview how the new proposals are different from these cases.

Ople vs. Torres (G.R. No. 127685, 23 July 1998, penned by Chief Justice Reynaldo Puno)

In 1996, President Fidel Ramos issued Administrative Order No. 308, entitled “Adoption of a National Computerized Identification Reference System,” the pertinent portions of which reads:


WHEREAS, there is a need to provide Filipino citizens and foreign residents with the facility to conveniently transact business with basic service and social security providers and other government instrumentalities;

WHEREAS, this will require a computerized system to properly and efficiently identify persons seeking basic services on social security and reduce, if not totally eradicate, fraudulent transactions and misrepresentations;

WHEREAS, a concerted and collaborative effort among the various basic services and social security providing agencies and other government instrumentalities is required to achieve such a system;

NOW, THEREFORE, I, FIDEL V. RAMOS, President of the Republic of the Philippines, by virtue of the powers vested in me by law, do hereby direct the following:

SECTION 1. Establishment of a National Computerized Identification Reference System. A decentralized Identification Reference System among the key basic services and social security providers is hereby established.
SEC. 4. Linkage Among Agencies. The Population Reference Number (PRN) generated by the NSO shall serve as the common reference number to establish a linkage among concerned agencies. The IACC Secretariat shall coordinate with the different Social Security and Services Agencies to establish the standards in the use of Biometrics Technology and in computer application designs of their respective systems.

A.O. 308 involves a subject that is not appropriate to be covered by an administrative order and usurps the power of Congress to legislate

Congress is vested with the power to enact laws, while the President executes the laws. The President’s administrative power is concerned with the work of applying policies and enforcing orders as determined by proper governmental organs. An “administrative order” refers to “[a]cts of the President which relate to particular aspects of governmental operation in pursuance of his duties as administrative head shall be promulgated in administrative orders.” An administrative order is an ordinance issued by the President which relates to specific aspects in the administrative operation of government. It must be in harmony with the law and should be for the sole purpose of implementing the law and carrying out the legislative policy.

A.O. No. 308 establishes for the first time a National Computerized Identification Reference System. It does not simply implement the Administrative Code of 1987. This administrative order redefines the parameters of some basic rights of the citizenry vis-a-vis the State, as well as the line that separates the administrative power of the President to make rules and the legislative power of Congress. It deals with a subject that should be covered by law.

A.O. violates the right to privacy

In striking down A.O. 308, the SC emphasized that the Court is not per se against the use of computers to accumulate, store, process, retrieve and transmit data to improve our bureaucracy. The SC also emphasized that the right to privacy does not bar all incursions into the right to individual privacy. This right merely requires that the law be narrowly focused and a compelling interest justify such intrusions. Intrusions into the right must be accompanied by proper safeguards and well-defined standards to prevent unconstitutional invasions.

The right to privacy is a constitutional right, granted recognition independently of its identification with liberty. It is recognized and enshrined in several provisions of our Constitution, specifically in Sections 1, 2, 3 (1), 6, 8 and 17 of the Bill of Rights. Zones of privacy are also recognized and protected in our laws, including certain provisions of the Civil Code and the Revised Penal Code, as well as in special laws (e.g., Anti-Wiretapping Law, the Secrecy of Bank Deposit Act and the Intellectual Property Code).

The right to privacy is a fundamental right guaranteed by the Constitution. Thefore, it is the burden of government to show that A.O. 308 is justified by some compelling state interest and that it is narrowly drawn. The government failed to discharge this burden.

A.O. 308 is predicated on two considerations: (1) the need to provide our citizens and foreigners with the facility to conveniently transact business with basic service and social security providers and other government instrumentalities and (2) the need to reduce, if not totally eradicate, fraudulent transactions and misrepresentations by persons seeking basic services. While it is debatable whether these interests are compelling enough to warrant the issuance of A.O. 308, it is not arguable that the broadness, the vagueness, the overbreadth of A.O. 308, if implemented, will put our people’s right to privacy in clear and present danger.

The heart of A.O. 308 lies in its Section 4 which provides for a Population Reference Number (PRN) as a “common reference number to establish a linkage among concerned agencies” through the use of “Biometrics Technology” and “computer application designs.” Biometry or biometrics is “the science of the application of statistical methods to biological facts; a mathematical analysis of biological data.” The methods or forms of biological encoding include finger-scanning and retinal scanning, as well as the method known as the “artificial nose” and the thermogram. A.O. 308 does not state what specific biological characteristics and what particular biometrics technology shall be used.

Moreover, A.O. 308 does not state whether encoding of data is limited to biological information alone for identification purposes. The Solicitor General’s claim that the adoption of the Identification Reference System will contribute to the “generation of population data for development planning” is an admission that the PRN will not be used solely for identification but for the generation of other data with remote relation to the avowed purposes of A.O. 308. The computer linkage gives other government agencies access to the information, but there are no controls to guard against leakage of information. When the access code of the control programs of the particular computer system is broken, an intruder, without fear of sanction or penalty, can make use of the data for whatever purpose, or worse, manipulate the data stored within the system.

A.O. 308 falls short of assuring that personal information which will be gathered about our people will only be processed for unequivocally specified purposes. The lack of proper safeguards in this regard of A.O. 308 may interfere with the individual’s liberty of abode and travel by enabling authorities to track down his movement; it may also enable unscrupulous persons to access confidential information and circumvent the right against self-incrimination; it may pave the way for “fishing expeditions” by government authorities and evade the right against unreasonable searches and seizures. The possibilities of abuse and misuse of the PRN, biometrics and computer technology are accentuated when we consider that the individual lacks control over what can be read or placed on his ID, much less verify the correctness of the data encoded. They threaten the very abuses that the Bill of Rights seeks to prevent.

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