NIC Centre stores biometric info despite Supreme Court injunction

September 14, 2015

While politicians used the biometric ID Card situation as a leverage to gain popularity in the previous general election, concerned citizens are still fighting to get their voices heard. On the 30th of August 2015, members of the Lalit movement wrote a letter to the Data Protection Commissioner. Today Ms Rajni Lalah wrote to the Commissioner regarding her experience as encountered at the National Identity Card Centre, Emmanuel Anquetil Building, Port Louis.

We should note that the MNIC which invested a lot in pompous marketing campaigns during the 201314 period now runs as the National Identity Card Centre (NICC). The website of the defunct MNIC, i.e, is dead since several months; to be precise, it is unavailable since Mr. Rao Ramah, the former project director, left. What happened to the website, to the lavish marketing budgets, to mini-tenders allocated? No one asks the question. From what I could gather in the press, every official is whining over the hefty cost of the project & that things cannot be easily changed due to the costs already incurred. We should therefore accept the dirty workarounds. Oh, they don’t call it dirty, I do. For them it is the perfect solution. Let me guess, the previous minister claimed the project to be “highly secured” and boasted the perfection, the current ministry claims their “workarounds” are best, tomorrow some other minister will come and try to fix the mess and ask us to accept “his/her” perfect solution. Summing-up, everyone is perfect when in government, citizens showing concerns are the brainless fellows. Duh!

Former Prime Minister of Mauritius, Dr. Navin Chandra Ramgoolam using the old ID Card Former Prime Minister of Mauritius, Dr. Navin Chandra Ramgoolam using the old ID Card

Okay, let’s see some interesting findings by Rajni. She asked the Operation and Support Coordinator at the NICC, Mr. Pravin Lutchugadoo, about the “operations”. Among the answers, this particular one is worrisome.

Mr. Lutchugadoo said upon registration, the fingerprint images of the person are sent to the datacenter in Ebène and once the minutiae are created, the fingerprint images are deleted through an “automatic” procedure. Now, this automatic procedure worries me. I mentioned in various past articles that our government(s) do not have a precedent that allows me to blindly trust them in technology. They blatantly failed ICT projects, not to mention the word “corruption” whenever big money is involved. Should I now trust their automatic procedure that deletes my fingerprints? When the fingerprint images of over 900K Mauritians were deleted, the minister assured the population that the persons witnessing the deletion will sign an affidavit as it’s done. Who will sign an affidavit when my fingerprints will be deleted?

Meanwhile, the affidavit as mentioned by the minister has not been communicated to public, yet the NIC Centres have opened doors.

Mr. Lutchugadoo also “estimates” that the deletion happens after like 2 - 5 days. That’s an estimation, right? It could take more, waiting for batch deletion?

Regarding the photograph, the same equipment is being used but it is argued that only a “JPEG” photo is saved, which is not “biometric”. What are the technical differences between the current JPEG and the previous biometric photo? Can’t the current photo be used for matching purposes?

Mr Lutchugadoo says:

There will still be the lines on the photograph across the card-holder’s face. This, he said, was to “protect it”.

The lines protect what? Are you rather talking about laser engraves? Please, don’t say the lines protect it. That sounds lame coming from a government official.

The next paragraph in Rajni’s letter is very interesting, I quote it in full:

It is, curiously, only after having one’s fingerprints have been taken and one’s photograph taken at what is called “Registration”, that one is then confronted with a “Declaration Form”. This “declaration form” contains a clause whereby one gives agreement, or consent, to a fingerprint being recorded and processed. So, the “consent form” seems to be back under a new name. The form must be signed “electronically” with either a signature or a thumbprint on-the-spot. No copy of what one has signed “can” be given, he stated. He could not even provide me with a copy beforehand. He did not even read it word-by-word to me. He explained that it can only be read at the “verification” stage (i.e. after the “Registration” stage). This is of concern. He explained that it has been “gazetted”. The Government Gazette is not available on line, nor to non-subscribers. It is possible that it is the very same “consent form” that caused so much outcry in the Press.

Compelled to sign a "consent" form

So, you’re asked to give your consent to something without expressly being explained about it. I find this abusive. An abuse of the citizen’s trust. If I say the government is forcing me to give my fingerprints, people might say no. Wait, it is a “consent” form. Don’t I have the right not to consent to it? Then, I do not get an ID Card if I do not consent to the recording of my fingerprints. Doesn’t it sum-up to a forceful consent?

The Supreme Court judgement

I quote from the Supreme Court judgement:

"we grant a permanent writ of injunction prohibiting the defendants from storing, or causing to be stored, as the case may be, any fingerprints or biometric information data obtained on the basis of the provisions in the National Identity Card Act and the Data Protection Act."

The Supreme Court issued an injunction that prohibits the storing of biometric information on the basis of the provisions in the NIC Act and the Data Protection Act.

The NIC Centre is storing fingerprint images in the government-owned database which it says will be deleted in 2 - 5 days (or God knows when) and storing fingerprint minutiae in the ID Card. In my opinion the government is storing biometric information despite a Supreme Court injuction, unless my understanding of the word “store” is not the same as government officials.

The screenshot of the “former prime minister” was taken using a video published by ION News.