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Tunisia: Statement on Proposed National ID Card

The newly proposed legislation amending the law that establishes national identity cards in Tunisia seriously undermines the rights guaranteed under the Tunisian constitution and national law on citizens’ right to privacy. We, the undersigned organizations, express our opposition to the legislation proposed by the Tunisian Ministry of Interior.

The law was first debated by the ministerial council, whereupon it was voted on and recommended to the National Assembly for the Representatives of the People (ARP) for consideration on August 5, 2016. The purported purpose of this new ID card, as well as its timing, is unclear. The proposed draft law is set to amend Law No. 27 of 1993 on the national identity card to render the card equipped with an electronic chip. The chip is rumored to employ the Gemalto system—which is used by some governments today to track and store citizens’ health and banking data.

The draft law does not include or even reference any procedural or substantive safeguards on what kind of data will be collected, and how it will be used. These shortcomings allow for substantial abuses on the protection of personal data.

In addition, the proposed law indicates that there will be a part of the ID card that is encrypted, and any attempt to decrypt said information — even if it is the citizen is attempting to access his or her very own personal data — will be punishable by five years in prison.

The reasons supplied by the Ministry to create this new ID card are unclear at best. The proposed project is a costly one that would replicate existing efforts and waste hundreds of thousands of dinars in public funds; the current Tunisian identity card already contains a unique identifier number as well as a bar code that the Ministry has yet to take advantage of in its administrative operations and treatment of personal data.

We know very little about the workings or purpose of this new digital ID card and database. The proposed law does not indicate:

  1. What kind of personal data will be stored in the encrypted part of the new identity card;
  2. What institution is charged with determining which personal data is to be stored;
  3. If personal data is stored, how long it will be stored for (a time limit);
  4. Whether there will be an internal database;
  5. Which government authorities, including law enforcement, will have access to said database;
  6. Under which legal standards will government authorities access the data;
  7. Where such personal data will be stored;
  8. What institutions or individuals are granted access to the personal data that is encrypted;
  9. Whether foreign governments have access to the personal data;
  10. And finally, what security precautions, if any, will be taken to ensure data security.

The Ministry of Interior did not coordinate with or consult the various components of civil society about the data protection aspects contained in the new biometric ID. According to Art. 76 of the Personal Data Protection Act of 2004 (Law number 63), the National Authority for Personal Data Protection is recommended to give advisory opinions on all questions related to personal data, including proposed legislation and ministerial decrees. Given the lack of consultation with the Authority, no such opinion was rendered.

The undersigned organizations believe bill highly undermines the privacy of Tunisian citizens, the protection of their personal data, their freedom of movement, and their freedom of expression. The proposed legislation creates a centralized trove of data that is susceptible to breach by malicious actors as well as abuse by public authorities. This, in practice, would violate Article 24 of the Tunisian Constitution, which states: “The state protects the right to privacy and the inviolability of the home, and the confidentiality of correspondence, communications, and personal information.”

The bill also creates unnecessary and disproportionate risks to human rights, which could chill expression and deter travel. We urge the Tunisian Assembly (ARP) to continue to stand up for our hard-won civil liberties, and wholly reject the proposed legislation. Parliament should drop the draft bill proposed by the Ministry of the Interior and continue to focus on advancing civil liberties that guarantee an open and free society.

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Doustourna Network
Friedrich Ebert Foundation, Tunisia
Psychologists of the World (PDM), Tunisia
Tunisian League of Human Rights
Tunisian Forum on Economic and Social Rights
National Independent Coordination Committee for Transitional Justice

This statement is also available in French.

18 November 2016