Bill for digital identification brought in hurry, opine experts


In contemporary world, the utility of database cannot be denied. The digital multi-layered data with photo and biometric has prospect of providing greater transparency. But, at the same time, it is imperative to ensure that the data collected is made available only to persons or institutions authorised by law for access and used only for the purpose for which the data was collected.

In this context, the government has recently tabled a bill related to provisions regarding the National Identity Certificate and Registration with an aim to provide a nationwide citizen registration. The national identity certificate will have personal data of family name, given name, address, father’s name, mother’s name, grandparents’ name, husband’s or wife’s name, profession and income details,  photo and four fingerprints of both thumbs and two index fingers.

However, “If the proposed law, which seeks to provide national identity certificate to all the citizens or the persons qualified to be citizens, is not utilised with good intention, the blessing of unique (digital) identity card with photo and biometrics might become a bane,” said Dr Surya Nath Upadhyaya, former Chief Commissioner of the Commission for the Investigation of Abuse of Authority (CIAA), in an interaction programme organised by Kathmandu University School of Law (KUSL) Dhulikhel on Sunday in Kathmandu. He further said that the complexities associated with the open border may create challenges in effective implementation of the laws relating to citizenships or national identity card.

He was of the view that the citizenship or national identity cards should be provided in digital form in the age we live in. “But the legal arrangements or national policies should serve our national interest and suit our normative structure. We should not endorse anything just because it has been adopted by foreign states.”

Seconding the view of Upadhyaya, Ram Sahaya Prasad Yadav, a Member of Parliament, said that the bill ought to have been introduced with prior deliberations. “The identification system is in practice in more than 100 countries. It’s the need of the day,” said he.

“But it must not be provided to non-Nepalis. The state should ensure that such practice is a step ahead in right direction for protecting the rights and not for encroaching on our privacy,” he said.

Still, “The proposed National Identification and Registration Bill, 2075 (BS) is an important initiative of the government. It aims to promote, establish and regulate the national identification system that facilitates the enrolment of all citizens and the verification of their biographical and biometric information, and among other things,” said Dr Bipin Adhikari, Dean of KUSL, Dhulikhel.

He further said that though the Bill is in the line with similar developments in other countries, “it is not clear why a national identification and registration department is being created at the Home Ministry when it comes to learn that the existing District Offices under the same Ministry are trained enough to do the job.”

He added, “The very District Administration offices should be shouldered with the responsibility to deal with all the registration works under the proposed legislation. The existing system of citizenship certificates could be expanded to fulfil the requirements of further identification and registration.”

Adhikari then went on to assert that “the proposed Bill, as it stands now, creates duplication and might give alternative opportunities to unqualified foreigners claiming citizenship certificates by unscrupulous means. This way, it will create a national hue and cry in long run.”

However, Dr Surya Dhungel, a senior advocate, opined that the bill has initiated with the distrust towards the provincial governments and that needs to be reconsidered. “The provincial governments have been offered minimal role to play. It appears that the bill has been brought in hurry,” said Dhungel.

He further said that the use of the words, like integrated national identity card or multi-purpose, in preamble is ambiguous in nature. Similarly, the bill ought to have provided the definition of the family. “The term ‘family’ has different meaning in different legal contexts,” he said.

Likewise, Devendra Jha, an advocate, said, “The state would be under an obligation to ensure the accuracy, integrity, confidentiality and security of data it collects.”

He further said that scores of Muslims from Pakistan or other Islamic states have taken citizenships in southern plains with the help of their known ones. “The national identity certificate should not be provided to them [illegal Muslim migrants]. It’s high time we learnt that their wider presence would pose threat to our national concerns,” added Jha.

Despite this, “The technology has become a vital tool for ensuring governance in a modern welfare state. However, the data compromised will always remain compromised and the bill contains nothing to curb misuse or abuse of data,” said Abhishek Adhikari, an advocate at the Supreme Court.

Appropriate privacy and data protection laws must be brought into force so that the data collected on Nepali citizens by the instrumentalities of the state must be protected and monitored against misuse or abuse. The digital identification would enable the government agencies to run subsidy or welfare schemes smoothly and provide a mechanism to check the veracity of persons claiming benefits under national or provincial schemes.

Yet, the ultimate end of the legislation should be to curb the distribution of citizenship or digital identification to non-Nepalis. After all, people entering Nepal are the people in Nepal, not the citizens of Nepal.

Published on 25 February 2019