Myanmar closes delayed biometrics tender amid funding confusion, data protection laws still absent
The government of Myanmar has carried out a tender process for a biometric database for mobile phone subscribers, alarming civil society activists due to the country’s lack of data protection laws, according to The Myanmar Times.
People in Myanmar registering the purchase of a SIM card will have their fingerprints collected and their identity card scanned.
The tender will be paid for by drawing on the Universal Service Fund, which was established with a legal mandate to expand telecom access, which critics say violates Ministry of Transport and Communication policy.
“The ministry is definitely using it outside of the scope of what the Universal Service Fund is traditionally used for,” says Myanmar ICT for Development Organisation (MIDO) Executive Director Daw Htaike Htaike Aung.
The contract was initially offered in late-2019, and then re-tendered in April of this year. In mid-May, the deadline was extended to June 9.
Both left and right fingerprints will be used for identity verification, but facial photos from identity documents will be stored simply as biographic information, according to the Posts and Telecommunications Department (PTD).
The winning bidder is expected to stand up a database for up to 60 million biometric records, implemented within six months. The PTD expects to complete the registration of all mobile phone users six months after the database is established.
The government has previously said that any SIM cards not registered to an identity document by June 30 will be cut off.
When the tender was initially offered, Privacy International and other organizations expressed concern that the project could be used for invasive surveillance. PI stated that in the absence of laws governing data or surveillance, the database “would be operating in a legal void.”
The PTD responded that the government is “preparing all the necessary Legal Framework for Biometric registration of SIM cards,” but no new law has been announced.