Thursday, 24 December 2009

Green light for the radio frequency ID project

Alvin Capino
Manila Standard
http://www.manilastandardtoday.com/insideOpinion.htm?f=2009/december/23/alvincapino.isx&d=/2009/december/23

It appears that there is no more impediment to the implementation of the radio frequency system by the Land Transportation Office this January with the failure of militant groups to get a temporary restraining order from the Supreme Court.

Earlier, the militant transport group Piston, together with Bayan Muna Reps. Satur Ocampo and Teddy Casiño, Gabriela Rep. Liza Maza and Anakpawis Rep. Joel Maglunsod had asked the Supreme Court for a permanent injunction order with prayer for a TRO.

With their usual paranoia, the progressive groups claimed that the project could be used by the government to spy on and invade the privacy of people who are perceived as enemies of the state.

“Invasion of privacy” is a refrain we hear from Leftists whenever the government tries to implement programs and projects that seek to install order and convenience for the public. This is their mantra against the national ID system that would give a unified ID for all citizens to make transactions with government easier and make it difficult for people to assume multiple identities.

Using the “invasion of privacy” line to object to the project, however, verges on the ridiculous.

LTO’s RFID will serve as a vehicle’s birth certificate of sorts and will serve as the unique ID for a vehicle from motorcyles to trucks.

How this can be used to invade an individual’s privacy is hard to imagine. Perhaps the militant groups opposing the adoption by LTO of the system can explain how they came to this conclusion.

The system can be used as a deterrent to carnapping since any attempt to register a carnapped vehicle will immediately raise alarms.

The system will stop the practice of non-appearance for mandatory emission testing for vehicles before registration. Once the system is in place, RFID readers will be installed in all LTO authorized emission testing centers. It can easily be verified if the vehicle is actually in the center when the emission test is conducted.

RFID will make it easier to stop “colorum” buses and jeepneys. With a tag reader, a law enforcer can immediately detect if a public transport vehicle has a franchise or if it is operating outside its franchise area.

Transportation chief assistant secretary Arturo Lomibao had a meeting with Commission on Human Rights chair Leila de Lima to explain the system and assure her that the technology does not invade the rights to privacy of motorists.

De Lima had expressed concern about possible privacy rights violations amidst the controversy generated by the opposition to the announcement of the planned implementation of the system.

Lomibao said he assured De Lima that LTO’s strict protocols would not allow RFID to be used to harass motorists.

In a recent talk with journalists, Lomibao stressed that no contact information like address or telephone numbers can be accessed through the RFID. The tag does not have global positioning capability.

One expert earlier explained that a cell phone was potentially more invasive and was more of a threat to privacy than RFID. There are devices, after all, which can trace the location of a cell phone user as well as tap voice and text messages sent through the cellular phone.

Lomibao said that an RFID reader will show only the following information: RFID unique code, motor vehicle file number, engine number, chassis number, plate number, motor vehicle type, color, make, series, year model, body type, registered owner, last registration date and alarms on the vehicles and whether the alarms have been settled or still unsettled.

If it’s a public utility vehicle tagging the RFID through the reader would also show the franchise number, the authorized route, and the name of the owner/organization.

It would seem that only the militant Piston is still opposing the implementation of the RFID system.

All other major transport groups led by 1-United Transport Koalisyon (1-UTAK) led by sectoral representative lawyer Vigor Mendoza had expressed their all out support for the implementation of the RFID through a resolution signed by the organization’s key transport leaders nationwide.

The resolution urged President Gloria Arroyo to immediately implement the RFID project as well as the interconnectivity program of the LTO and the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board.

Aside from 1-UTAK other transport groups which have publicly expressed support for the LTO RFID project are Acto, Pasang Masda and Fejodap.

The P350 price has been cited by some of those opposing the project to ask government to junk it. They say the charges are exorbitant and the price of RFID is just a fraction of what will be charged to vehicle owners.

Like the issue of RFID potentials to spy on vehicle owners, the issue of exorbitant price is baseless and unreasonable.

The P350 price for the RFID tag is a one-time payment. The tag has a warranty of 10 years so the yearly payment amounts to P35/year.

Those who say the tag is overpriced conveniently forget the fact that the P350 covers not just the tag but the entire system plus its operation, the yearly maintenance, value-added tax and government’s revenue share.

For every P350, the VAT for each tag is P37.50, the revenue share for the national government is P20.43 and the fund allocated for the LTO Training Fund is P32.93. These three items alone total P90.86.

If you factor in the capital expenditure for the hardware, software, readers and network equipment as well as the cost of personnel to be hired specifically for the project, the general administrative cost and the cost of the tag the net to Stradcom, the service provider is less than P20.

The P350 cost of the RFID is reasonable if you compare it to the Epass for Slex (P1,300) and the EC tag for Nlex (P1,000). Of course the Epass and the EC tags uses the old battery powered active type system which is good for three to five years while the passive type non-battery operated RFID system is a next generation identification technology similar to barcode readers.

Perhaps a fairer comparison is RFID systems used in other countries for transport. The Touch and Go payment card in Malaysia and Octopus system in Hongkong for payment of tolls and payment in retail outlets cost the equivalent of P2,000. The EZ link payment card in Singapore cost the equivalent of P600. Compared to these cost, the P350 for the LTO RFID tags is reasonable.

Perhaps Ocampo and Masa can look at other issues that would really be relevant to the public. They do not sound reasonable in their opposition to the RFID project and only he carnappers, the colorum operators and the unscrupulous emission testing centers are happy with their efforts to stop what appears now as a good project.

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