Friday, August 6, 2010

A Technophobic Citizenry

technophobe [ˈtɛknəʊˌfəʊb]

n

1. (Sociology) someone who fears the effects of technological development on society and the environment

2. someone who is afraid of using technological devices, such as computers (TheFreeDictionary. http://www.thefreedictionary.com/technophobe)

Early this year, the Supreme Court issued a status quo ante order that retarded the implementation of the radio frequency identification (RFID) system for motor vehicles, on overriding considerations of the right to privacy, as advanced by several party-list and transport groups. (Inquirer.net. http://newsinfo.inquirer.net/inquirerheadlines/nation/view/20100113-247035/High-court-stops-RFID-tells-LTO-to-refund-fees)

It is lamentable that amorphous specters and imaginings of right to privacy violations, perhaps, reminiscent of the 2008 action thriller, “Eagle Eye”, have a very real chilling effect on welcoming arms to such worthwhile investments in technology, which, in turn, dissolves any hope of realizing a better-equipped administrative machinery for effective regulation and crime prevention.

Not only was the program projected to rake in about 1.6 Billion Pesos in government revenues, it also stood to serve as a colorum buster, to definitively address the economic issues of legitimate public utility franchise holders in the face of ever-rising fuel prices and cutthroat competition induced by colorum operators. (Inquirer.net. supra)

This order of the Supreme Court rekindles the same fears of more than a decade ago, when the Court declared as unconstitutional Administrative Order No. 308, the Adoption of a National Computerized Identification Reference System, reasoning that it “would ‘put our people’s right to privacy in clear and present danger… It is thus clear as daylight that without the ID, a citizen will have difficulty exercising his rights and enjoying his privileges.’” While the Court therein likewise declared that “all laws invasive of privacy would be subject to ‘strict scrutiny’”, it “was also careful to note that, ‘the right to privacy does not bar all incursions to privacy.’” (Privacy and Human Rights 2003: Philippines. http://www.privacyinternational.org/survey/phr2003/countries/philippines.htm) Unfortunately, it seems that the bar to all incursions to privacy is a very heavy one, which an innocuous RFID system in transportation cannot lift.

To further dismantle and overcome any merits of the RFID system, the Commission on Human Rights opined that it would be “tantamount to surveillance without legal basis… there is risk of abuse or misuse. It should only be on a case-to-case basis [and] not sweeping and unlimited.” This, the CHR said, despite assurances from the RFID sticker tags’ purveyor that it cannot be “used to spy on vehicle owners or to track the whereabouts of the actual vehicle. ‘The tags do not have GPS capability, which allows authorities to track the vehicle via satellite’”. “He added that law enforcers can only determine if a vehicle is stolen or used in a crime if they download real-time information about the vehicle through a mobile reader.” (ABS-CBN News.com. http://www.abs-cbnnews.com/nation/09/24/09/clamor-vs-ltos-rfid-project-grows)

While there is indeed a “risk of abuse or misuse” in any governmental power or system, we should be sobered by Justice Laurel’s tempered disposition: “the possibility of abuse is not an argument against the concession of the power as there is no power that is not susceptible of abuse” (Angara vs. Electoral Commission, 63 Phil., 139, 177); nevertheless in another case, the same Justice warned that “when a case of that kind arises (i.e., abuse), it will be the time to make the hammer fall and heavily. But not until then… (Zandueta vs. De la Costa 66 Phil., 615, 626-627)” (Garcia v. Lejano, G.R. No. L-12220, Aug. 8 1960) If only, in the style of that Justice, we can be more receptive to change, moved by kaizen and not by fear.


Raul Sy Grapilon

Entry No. 6