Taiwan could become an Orwellian society with no privacy from a Big Brother government able to monitor every aspect of citizens’ daily lives if the government goes ahead with an electronic national identification card (eID) without first establishing protection measures and a regulatory body, cybersecurity experts and academics said yesterday.
Lu Chung-chin (呂忠津), a professor at National Tsing Hua University’s College of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science who researches digital communications, said there are inherent risks of security breaches with the “one card for all” scheme, given that the eID’s chip would store the carrier’s personal information.
The Ministry of the Interior plans to have the eID incorporate all the data on national ID cards, Citizen Digital Certificates, National Health Insurance cards and driver’s licenses, and it was scheduled to roll out the program in October, but the start date has been postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It is inconceivable that our government has ignored opposing voices and is going to push the plan through to force people to accept an eID. Under this scheme, there are few controls and no limitations on collecting each citizen’s electronic data and digital footprint, as all the eggs would now be in one basket,” Lu said at the briefing in Taipei held by the Taiwan Association of University Professors.
“This will lead to an Orwellian society, allowing government agencies to monitor every citizen and control everyone’s privacy and their personal information,” Lu said.
Citizens’ right to protect their personal information is guaranteed under the Constitution, and therefore legislation must be enacted first to allow for collection via the eID system, and an independent agency must be established for oversight, Lu said.
“The public must also have the choice to use existing IDs, those of cards in paper form. This is what our government should do to defend our democracy, and protect our individual rights and freedom,” Lu added.
Liao I-en (廖宜恩), a professor of computer science at National Chung Hsing University, said the ministry’s entire planning process for the eID scheme from its initiation to its tender was questionable and possibly illegal.
A new regulation on issuing eIDs to replace existing ID cards was only announced on March 19, yet the implementation date for the scheme was retroactively set to Jan. 1 last year, Liao said.
“This was to cover up that an illegal tender process for the eIDs was already under way last year, and won by contractors who had already been working on the scheme,” Liao said.
“We need government officials to open up this process and communicate with the public in a transparent manner, but we did not have that. Instead, when questioned, interior ministry officials just kept on saying that ‘the eID is guaranteed to be safe,’ and rejected concerns raised by the public, civic groups and cybersecurity experts,” he said.
“This is such an important matter — protecting personal privacy and the dangers of digital data breaches relating to national security — but there was no platform for dialogue with government, for people to express their opinions,” he said.
“I am very disturbed and feel very sad, because some government officials still have this ‘we know what is best for you’ mindset on the eID scheme, and look down on the public,” he added.
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