14 March 2021

Consultations begin on Unique Identity System (UID)

 Liga ba blog ida ne'e iha Tetum

In January 2021, a technical team from Timor-Leste's Information and Communications Technology Agency "TIC Timor" circulated a draft Strategic Plan for a Unique Identifier (UID) system for limited consultation. Although La'o Hamutuk was included in this process, TIC has asked us not to circulate the draft plan more widely. The Presidency of the Council of Ministers invited La'o Hamutuk and others to a public consultation on 19 February, and we followed up with a written submission (Tetum). TIC replied with a detailed written response, but they have asked us not to put it online.

The main points of La'o Hamutuk's submission are:

  • Any identification system must respect privacy, freedom of expression and information, and other rights guaranteed by Timor-Leste's Constitution and international human rights conventions. There should be wide public consultation, and the system (if any) should be established by Parliamentary law.

  • Effective measures must ensure that all data collected is secure, and that hackers and other unauthorized people will not be able to read or modify it. People's privacy must be respected, and the biometric and other data in the UID system should not be combined with information from Facebook postings, telemobile activities, GPS or other sources to violate people's privacy or provide profits for companies.

  • Given the challenges of maintaining reliable internet and data systems in Timor-Leste, we are concerned that access to services linked to this system may be problematic when the UID system itself experiences equipment failure, software errors, power or internet outages or other disruptions. A lower-tech ID system, such as physical electoral cards, may be more reliable in Timor-Leste's current context.

  • Timor-Leste's people know from personal experience what it is like to live under colonial and occupation regimes that oppress its people. Today, people in Timor-Leste live under a democratic system which respects human rights and where well-intentioned leaders govern under the rule of law. However, as Myanmar's current experience demonstrates, this may not always be the case. We are concerned that a system like this could make oppression easier and more effective.

  • Many people, especially in rural areas, do not yet have good understanding of technical and legal words and concepts underlying the implementation of the UID system. Their rights of privacy and voluntary consent must be protected.

  • When people know that the state has the capacity to link their personal behavior with access to public services, they may be less willing to cooperate fully and honestly with the Census and other surveys which help authorities gather facts to guide policy-making.

  • In conclusion, we believe that the risks of this project outweigh its benefits for our people, and ask the Government to find other ways to improve its data management which do not potentially threaten people's rights and needs.

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