Meeting creative folks at the No To Biometric ID Card gathering

June 22, 2014

Since the project of Biometric ID Card was announced in Mauritius, several individuals & groups stood up against it. It’s well known that such projects had to be scrapped elsewhere, like the United Kingdom. However in Mauritius, authorities are making a deaf ear to all concerns & doubts raised. Consequently, a lot more professionals joined in & the groups have grown much stronger in recent weeks.

I raised doubts weeks ago when I started looking for information regarding the project. Everyone at my place are waiting for me to get answers, so can we go and register for our new ID Card. So far, I am not getting answers. I wrote in several articles, the state of our current IT infrastructure is unhealthy. How do we “modernize” into biometrics when simple things aren’t done well, when malpractices abound at every level, when raised concerns are given a deaf ear.

To talk about the same I attended a gathering that was organized by the No To Biometric Data on ID Card group. I know several activists there, namely Jeff, Catherine, Vince, Christophe, Ivor, Shimanda and others from the team. This makes it easier to mix-up for a guy who usually attends only IT meetups, conferences etc.


Photo, courtesy of Abdoollah Earally, L’Express.

pizza-pirates-300Aww! Let’s see how the Saturday started. Veer pinged me during the week saying he’ll attend the gathering if I’ll go. Since he didn’t know the place I asked him to meet me at Rose-Hill bus station. As planned we met & had lunch at Pizza Pirates. Yeah! A delicious pizza with coke before we go talk on security matters. While munching the pizza we talked random stuffs about Linux. Veer told me he heard about Zorin OS & wanted to give it a try. Naturally, I encouraged him. Was good to have a heavy lunch. We might be stuck at the gathering till 17h00, which indeed was the case.

We reached Eddy Norton Hall, where the gathering was scheduled, around 14h00. A lot of people were present. I know usually people feel reluctant to attend gatherings against the authorities. However, looks like things are changing. A lot of people were there brainstorming on several topics, while on the projector some creative stuffs were playing. I liked that.

To me, these look different. Yeah, it’s like a different world. I think in terms of software freedom & I share my passion for same. Here I could see a lot of people who’re fighting for freedom on every frontier. I would stand quietly, looking at everyone, admiring the beauty of this whole thing. Mauritius does have a lot of people who think & care.

NoToBiometricIDCard-netbookI met Jeff & discussed how the talks would be carried. Told him I’m not sitting in the front (^^,) … I show up only when I’m needed. I was fifth in-line to talk about security. I knew no one else would be talking about that. Saw the projector & got an idea, maybe I could show a couple of stuffs that raise doubts over the current infrastructure. Things that I already wrote in the letter sent to the Hon. Minister of ICT & the MNIS Project Manager.

Ivor brought two laptops, one running Ubuntu. I was going use that but then I thought I might just pull out my netbook which has longer battery power.

Veer was very helpful here. I needed some 3G data & didn’t know about the various packages. He called up Orange, enquired about the packages, went to buy some cards and sms’ed for a weekly package. I then connected my mobile to 3G & tethered the same. I should say I got a decent connection. I fired up a few pages that I wanted to show during my talk.

Jeff did an awesome job, presenting every speaker & coordinating with those present. While the other speakers highlighted several human rights issues, legal complications, I listened carefully. I’m not well versed in the human rights stuffs, that’s why when I talk I keep things strictly IT related. That’s what I understand & I do not cross my line.

Roshi Badhain, spoke about the various tactics employed by the authorities to give the MNIS Project the shape that we see it today. He related how authorities rushed to get things done when he & his team lodged the initial case against the project. Strangely, even while three cases are lodged against the project, the conversion is being carried with full force. What will be the implications if authorities lose the case? What about taxpayer’s money that is being lavishly spent on marketing campaigns through media, mobile caravans etc. I never saw authorities putting so much “enthusiasm” into a project. It’s funny but our country needs such attention in other matters. As an IT professional I’d be very happy to see the same enthusiasm put into bringing .mu to Mauritius, slashing down the price; it’ll bring me a smile to see the authorities modernizing their current “infrastructure” rather putting new stuffs on un-secured ones.

NoToBiometricIDCard-3Well, it was then my turn to talk. I introduced myself. I’m a simple geek who talks about simple stuffs. Things that are in front our eyes, yet we do not realise what they are until someone presses the “alarm” button. I talked about not resolving, raised the question about who owns It’s not transparent at the moment. Let’s go further and see who owns Again it’s not transparent. While such things look very innocent, the whole blueprint depicts malpractices that leave loopholes (which can be exploited) at every level.

I commented on security issues as per the answers provided by the MNIS Project Manager. Does an offline database means it is highly secured? When it comes to comprising data of high-value, one needs to employ social engineering tactics and sadly, till now, I feel the authorities haven’t even considered this as a possibility. I gave an example on how one will have to steal someone’s identity from our current system & how things will change with the advent of a Central Population Database.

I ended my mini-presentation on the note that I am a citizen who wants his Identity Card like everyone else, but sadly, I cannot put my trust in the authorities to safeguard biometric data in a Central Population Database, while malpractices abound.

Photo highlights, courtesy of Darren, from No To Biometric Data on ID Card group.

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Press Coverage L’Express: No to Biometric Data on ID Card appelle à une désobéissance civile en août