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QR-ed, ID-ed, bar coded, tracked, tagged

By: Ma. Ceres P. Doyo - @inquirerdotnet - Columnist/Philippine Daily Inquirer | February 11,2021 - 08:00 AM

Wired magazine published the article “Digital IDs are more dangerous than you think” by Brett Solomon, founder of a global conference that addresses human rights in the digital age. It says that digital identification systems are meant to aid the marginalized but actually, they are ripe for abuse. More later.

Why am I thinking of the military’s sloppy intelligence gathering and red-tagging of critics of the present dispensation?

There is no escaping the fact that the current coronavirus pandemic and other events have a way of turning us individual human beings into digital data that could be stored, retrieved, downloaded, uploaded, and deleted like some electronic bits. Out there, there exist proofs of our being that enable us to engage in certain humanly activities otherwise not allowed those who cannot prove who they are with only laminated IDs.

Proof of our existence on this planet now requires, in many instances, digital identity. According to what I have read, “Digital identity is the body of information about an individual, organization or electronic device that exists online. Unique identifiers and use patterns make it possible to detect individuals or their devices.”

Yes, individuals and/or their devices. Else why would I get a notice on my cell phone about when and where I was this past month, and with pictures of the places at that! I have yet to learn to undo this creepy stalking.

A city in Metro Manila has an ordinance requiring visitors to have a QR code that would serve the city’s contact tracing efforts. So starting Feb. 15, guards in the city’s establishments “shall implement the NO QR NO Entry regulation.”

A friend mused: “While valuable for contact tracing in the time of COVID-19, we are naturally suspicious of how this government will use these tags.”

No microchips yet, I jested. Correct, she replied, like having GPS in the body, like Jason Bourne (in the movie trilogy) in whom a microchip had been embedded and which later had to be torn out of his flesh.

But remember, early conspiracy theories circulated in social media had already warned about microchips in the anti-coronavirus vaccine. Preposterous, yes, but people suffering from pandemic-induced paranoia became even more fearful of the vaccine. To start with, people already worried about personal info they had to write on slips of paper before they could be allowed to go in any public place with a door. Worried because who knows in whose data bank the gathered info will end up.

But this much is true, we are increasingly moving into some kind of Orwellian future where Big Brother is always watching. Not so unlike the ubiquitous CCTV cameras that, while being a boon to crime-solving and prevention, also caused people’s privacy to be compromised.

I just received my Quezon City online digital ID that pops up on my phone screen with a tap. It has a QR code, while my UMID card has only a bar code. Suddenly I thought of the chips in ATM and credit cards that may also be carrying so-called identifiers. And that somewhere out there are imprints of ourselves stored in some data bank—the whorls on our thumbs, the design in our irises, the contours on our faces—that had been captured for some temporary ID and database while we were in this or that high-security gathering abroad or on a cruise ship. Next, our DNA.

Solomon writes: “From airports to health record systems, technologists and policymakers with good intentions are digitizing our identities, making modern life more efficient and streamlined… But as someone who has tracked the advantages and perils of technology for human rights over the past ten years, I am nevertheless convinced that digital ID, writ large, poses one of the gravest risks to human rights of any technology that we have encountered.” Over time, he adds, the risks will become more severe.

“For starters, we are building near-perfect facial recognition technology and other identifiers, from the human gait to breath to iris. Biometric data bases are being set up in such a way that these individual identifiers are centralized, insecure, and opaque. Then there is the capacity of geo-location of identifiers — that is the tracking of the digital ‘you’ — in real time. A constant feed of insecure data from the Internet of Things may well connect you (and your identity) to other identities and nodes on the network without your consent.”

There is more to send shivers down our spine.

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TAGS: CCTV, DNA, Metro Manila, QR code

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