Five Minutes...Moira's Weekly Commentary

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October 22, 2002

Nowhere To Hide? ... Let's take five with Moira Gunn. This is "Five Minutes".

Pakistan continues to be in the news, and this time concerning its recent elections. While Pakistani elections have always been something of a drama, this time technology stepped in and played its own role.

In simple terms, some 70 million adults are somewhere in the middle of being issued new high-tech National Identification Cards. Since you need an ID card to vote, and the old ones were prematurely cancelled last June, the landscape for shenanigans might never be riper.

So, I went to Pakistan's web site to see just how high-tech these new cards are, and in point of fact, they're a wonder: layers of holographic laminates laid on space-age substrates, embedded micro-text, anti-photocopying techniques and hidden photographs.

Just reading the technical description alone is enough to give you a headache.


While there, I also became interested in other aspects of the site. The ID cards are distributed by Pakistan's National Database and Registration Authority, which goes by the name of NADRA - that's N-A-D-R-A ... NADRA, and its reach goes far beyond handing out spiffy ID's.

From its vision statement I quote: "NADRA aims at including more or less every detail of every Pakistani."

Wondering what they meant by that, I read on. It seems NADRA has the charter to "register within its purview all persons and things, wherever and whatever they may be, to the extent and in the manner laid down in NADRA Ordinance 2000."

And they go on to explain "things". "'thing' or 'things' means and include all animate or inanimate things, plants, animals, substances, items, concepts, ideas, laws, customs, qualities, signs, symbols, circumstances, affairs, events, acts, deeds, works, transactions, documents, pieces of movable or immovable property, tangible or intangible property, rights, privileges, duties, entities, living or non-living beings other than a human being and any thing that can be processed, or owned, or explained, whether known or unknown."

Heck, between the junk in my house and my crazy neighbor Rose, we could keep them busy for years.


Beyond the details, the policies reveal a grand vision: "In many organizations all over the world despite the availability of more and more powerful computers on everyone's desk and communication networks that span the globe, large number of ... decision makers can not get their hands on critical information ... that already exists in organizations. This is classified as 'data in jail'. NADRA's objective is to go beyond the concept of 'data in jail'."

And that's certainly apparent. NADRA aims to alleviate a vast assortment of social woes with information technology. These include poverty, overpopulation, illegal immigration, law enforcement, a broader tax base, public corruption, and the monitoring of medical facilities.

If they actually pull this off, the data will certainly no longer be in jail, but by almost any definition, the people will be.

The document goes on to say: "The diversity of data available within unified NADRA terminals would ensure smooth planning and meaningful implementation of all governmental policies and projects, leading to good governance, a cherished dream of every Pakistani."

And in case you think they're kidding, they repeated the "cherished dream" part twice.

But make no mistake: this is a complete, cohesive and all-controlling nationwide information infrastructure.

Scary, isn't it?

I'm Moira Gunn. This is Five Minutes.

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