April 12, 2012 | By Maira Sutton

UAE Signs Deal to Integrate National IDs Into Mobile Phones

The United Arab Emirates signed a deal with telecommunications company, Etisalat, to embed citizens' national ID information into mobile phones. They will now be exploring a system that would utilize an NFC or Near Field Communication application, which allows cell phones to communicate data via radio frequency within very close range. The UAE has had a national ID system since 2004, with IDs carrying a chip similar to one on a credit card and holding a person's name, birthday, gender, photograph, fingerprint, and ID number.

Etisalat, based in the UAE, has had a history working with the Emirati government on various initiatives. Notably, the company helped the government develop surveillance malware to be installed on Blackberry devices. However, it was quickly revealed that the "network upgrade" in disguise was in fact meant to spy on its mobile users.

EFF has long opposed national ID systems because they are fraught with potential abuse in every aspect of their creation and operation. Not only is it extremely costly to implement, the risk of fraudulent and flawed identification cards is very serious: these cards needs to distributed on such a scale that even a small percentage of errors could cause major social disruption. Moreover, such a mass collection of data leaves a high potential for abuse by both private and public actors.

Since carrying an ID card is mandatory in the UAE, this may mean that Emirati citizens may begin to be required to carry their phones on them at all times. Their objectives for working towards implementing this system currently unknown. However, integrating personal data with mobile phones can only bring trouble.

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