Dear politicians: Digital IDs are a terrible idea

OCTOBER 17 — I sometimes wonder if Malaysian politicians live in some sort of fact-sifting bubble where they don’t hear what they don’t want to hear.

Case-in-point: Gobind Singh touting a digital ID, inspired by India’s move in that direction.

Did someone not send Gobind the memo that India’s biometric database got hacked recently?

I’ve written about the blasé attitude Malaysians have towards data privacy and security. You would think our leaders would know better but they don’t.

The problem with a massive centralised system that houses the personal data of all a country’s citizens is how much risk it entails. There is obvious hubris on display here — such a system would be costly and tricky to secure. It would be obviously be a magnet for cyberattackers.

Think of all that data and what you could do with it—tap into the honeypot and imagine how many bank accounts and useful personal information you could either sell or use for nefarious purposes.

Having an ID system is problematic in the first place. Such a system exists on the premise that we can trust our government with the data. That the data will not be used to either persecute us or abused in any way.

I have two words for that assumption: Project IC.

There are many things our government should be doing but holding the key to a massive fortress of personal data isn’t one of them.

Our government needs to do more to protect individual privacy — even from them. Unless a person has knowingly broken the law, their personal privacy, including their data should be safe from both corporations and the government.

We do not need a digital ID system. Instead, we need to take a look at how the national registration department works. Strip it down to basic, essential functions. Simplify the verification of citizenship without needing to make citizens vulnerable to the whims of the state.

Malaysia also needs to be tougher on policy and regulation with corporations, especially when it comes to data. 

The recent huge telco data breach — until now, no heads have rolled. Instead, the government decided to interrogate the media and well-meaning individuals whose only crime were being whistleblowers.

You have better things to do, politicians. Don’t try and fix what’s broken — find what really isn’t working (like our privacy regulations) and work on that instead. Perhaps also talk to actual experts and not your Indian counterparts who seem to be just as ignorant as you about the complexity of securing huge private data repositories.

The digital ID system is a terrible idea. We’ve had 1Malaysia’s worth of bad ideas so please, try and think of actual good ones. Malaysia is desperately in need of them right now.

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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