Big Brother Coming to Malaysia?

Government to create national biometric ID registry

By: Murray Hunter

Malaysia says it will implement an all-encompassing nationwide biometric registry system that to critics calls up images of Big Brother, the fictional leader of the totalitarian state of Oceania in George Orwell’s famed dystopian novel 1984.

The proposal was revealed in the country’s just-published 12th Malaysia plan, a 532-page five-year development document that has drawn fire on several levels, not least because the RM2 billion plan allegedly was created out of the country by an international consulting firm.

Senior opposition MP Tony Pua said the 12th Malaysian Plan hasn’t analyzed why previous Malaysian Plans have failed, while offering nothing new. Criticism from East Malaysia argues that the Plan furthers the Malay agenda rather than addressing Bumiputera marginalization. Finally, critics say, the Plan, rather than streamlining public services, is full of new initiatives that will extend an already bloated bureaucracy. 

The new National Digital Identification (NDI) system is designed to use new data technologies and software to hold a vast trove of biometric and other personal data on all Malaysian citizens. It is designed to contain names, aliases and personal details, facial biometrics, and fingerprints. According to the development plan, this information is to be linked with departments and ministries across the government including the taxation office Lembaga Hasil Dalam Negeri, law authorities, the Social Welfare Department, the Election Commission, the National Higher Education Fund Corporation, the Labor Department, Ministry of Health, Motor Vehicle Licensing, immigration, and the courts.

Coupled with CCTV systems, the NDI could be used in facial recognition systems to track the country’s 32.37 million citizens almost everywhere they go. The development document says the scheme will be rolled out in 2022, after the Personal Data Protection Act is reviewed and amended to “provide greater rights and control over personal data as well as clarity on personal data management using technology.”

The government sees this move as necessary to curb data fraud and enhance the protection of personal rights. The NDI is intended to be a platform for personal authentication for use in banking and other online transactions. The possibilities for misuse in the hands of a shaky government are obvious.

The plan argues that the measure is extremely important to enhance government efficiency for service delivery and online transactions. It is argued that the NDI will enhance government transparency.

A similar biometric system was implemented by the Thai government in the three southern most provinces in the Deep South, Patani, Yala, and Narathiwat as a tool to be used against the long-running ethnic and religious insurgency that has taken the lives of at least 7,100 citizens and injured thousands since it erupted in 2004. The system is linked into surveillance technology with CCTV systems, biometric data, and AI software that can match up and utilize biometric data within the CCTV system, now enabling the conduct of technological surveillance on a wide scale throughout the border provinces. This has led to great resistance and suspicion of Thai government intentions by the Thai ethnic Malays within the region.

Sources say the Syed Mokhtar Al-Bukhary Group that was awarded a 5G telecommunications spectrum license is keenly seeking the multibillion-ringgit contract to develop and operate the national biometric register. The Syed Moktar group, headed by a patriarch who has been accused of being a top government crony, has interests in the rice monopoly BERNAS, Aliran Ihsas Resources, controlling Johor water, Gas Malaysia, Malakoff electricity generation, MODENAS, HICOM, Honda, Bank Muamalat, Asia Insurance, PUSPAKOM, MMC railway construction, Senai Airport, Tanjung Pelapas Port in Johor, and POS Malaysia.

Opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim has criticized the controversial five-year plan for its alleged cost of RM2 billion supposedly paid out to a foreign consulting company. Previous reports have always been prepared by the country’s government officials. Although Anwar’s assertion of foreign preparation was fervently denied by senior minister Mustapa Mohamed, the minister overseeing the plan, a source within the Economic Planning Unit, the agency within the Prime Minister’s Department which prepared it, confirmed that an international consulting firm played a major role in its development.

The consulting company specializes in digital technologies, analytics and data, organization development, and image building.

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