Biometric problems

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The state owes an explanation to Noelle Adelaide. She worked as a domestic helper in a house in Union Park when she found out that her employer had stolen her ID card, replaced the photo on it and used it to buy Rs48,000 worth of goods on credit. The bills went to Mrs. Adelaide. Now her employer, from what has emerged thus far, was no professional computer whizz. And yet she was able to falsify an ID card that became biometric precisely to make such fakery impossible, even less by a woman in Union Park with no indications of special talents in biometric technology. Obviously, an embarrassed government is now saying that this is the ‘first’ they have heard of such fraud using the biometric cards. Except of course, that it’s not. In December 2017, the police caught people using fake biometric cards to try to take money out of banks. Nothing much has been heard of that case either. 

It’s obvious why there is such embarrassment on the part of the government: the previous government introduced the biometric ID card claiming that it was impossible to falsify. They said it would prevent electoral fraud, with voters using fake ID cards to vote. Nobody knew that was a serious problem until the government thought about the cards. For the current government, the biometric ID card is an essential ingredient in its so-called Safe City project. Any suggestion that the technology can be compromised is an inconvenient fact that neither wants to recognise. 

In truth, the biometric ID card has nothing to do with security or with combating fake identity or scams. These are merely byproducts of the real purpose: population control. The march of surveillance technology has meant that ideology is no longer a barrier to the amount of power that states want to exercise over their own citizens. The liberal United States is just as enamoured with massive spying on its own citizens as is communist China. Both flog their wares to governments of the developing world eager to adopt such technology that would give them a measure of control over their states and citizens that inadequate governance and underdeveloped political institutions had so far denied them.  If the Mauritian state cannot satisfy its citizens, the least it could do is watch out for the troublemakers. 

In this fantasy, all the major political parties are complicit. The PMSD today says that the ‘Safe City’ project is more dangerous than the biometric ID card without mentioning that it’s precisely the facial recognition technology imbedded in those cards by the previous government (of which it was a part) that makes Safe City possible. In fact, it’s perfectly obvious that the previous Labour-PMSD government was contemplating eventually moving towards something like Safe City; otherwise why have biometric photos that support facial recognition if they did not plan on using them? On the other hand, the MSM, while it was in opposition, kicked up a fuss about fingerprints on the card, destroyed the fingerprint database but kept quiet about the biometric photos. The sideshow over, they went on to embark on the Safe City project, a massive surveillance programme. Like an ugly Tower of Babel, each major party has contributed to it. They are all budding authoritarians, and like the US and China, there is not much daylight between them. 

So as Mrs Adelaide wonders how her card could be so abused, the obvious answer is: her safety and her identity were never the point. The Safe City (or something resembling it), that fulfilled the authoritarian fantasies of every major political party, was. 

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