Carlo's Think Pieces

Reflections of a Filipino in the Netherlands

Safeguards needed for government’s linked databases

Posted by butalidnl on 16 July 2009

The government recently announced  that vehicle owners with outstanding fines will not be able to renew their vehicle registration, due to linking of the computer systems of the LTO and MMDA.  My first reaction to this news item was: do they mean to say that people were merrily renewing their vehicle registrations even if they ignored paying various LTO fines and penalties? For me, that was the news. In fact, it seems that people in the provinces will go on with doing just that – since the computer link-up is valid for Metro Manila only.

Here in the Netherlands, all kinds of government databases are linked. And, while we may marvel at the high-tech nature of this all, it often is quite annoying. For example, Dutch citizens who return to the country after having a vacation are regularly checked by the police to see if they owe the government anything – and they have to pay all these fines (plus interest) before they are allowed to go back into the country.

And if the immigration authorities are delayed in processing a foreign resident’s permit-to-stay, the poor foreigner will suddenly be treated as an illegal alien by all government agencies. These are just some of the harsh results from the linking of government databases.

Thus, while linked databases helps to catch sneaky citizens who don’t pay fines on time, it also brings all kinds of inconveniences for ordinary people. And in the Philippines, the linked databases may actually increase corruption by government officials who will then have a bigger stick to threaten ordinary people.  And there could also be a new field for “fixers” – in order to clean one’s record or get the necessary benefits despite being blacklisted.

There needs to be some safeguards to ensure that linked government databases become an instrument for more efficient government, while not being oppressive.  One measure is to allow citizens to see the details of their records, which should name the government office and the person who filed the “alarm listing”.   Another could be the prohibition of the police from accessing a person’s records without judicial approval.

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