According to recent reports by Reuters, Venezuela is rolling out a new ID card system. It sounds innocent enough, until you understand how this smart card came about, and what it will be able to do. A Chinese tech company related to the communist government has been linked to this data-breaching endeavour in Venezuela.
“In Venezuela, the idea of a smart card has been a long time dream for the ruling socialists,” says Angus Berwick, a correspondent for Reuters who is based in Venezuela.
In April 2008, the then Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez dispatched Justice Ministry officials to visit counterparts in the Chinese technology hub of Shenzhen. Their mission, according to a member of the Venezuela delegation, was to learn the workings of China’s national identity card program.
Chavez, a decade into his self-styled socialist revolution, wanted help to provide ID credentials to the millions of Venezuelans who still lacked basic documentation needed for tasks like voting or opening a bank account.
Once in Shenzhen, though, the Venezuelan government officials realised a card could do far more than just identify the recipient.
There, at the headquarters of Chinese telecom giant ZTE Corp, they learned how China, using smart cards, was developing a system that would help Beijing track social, political, and economic behaviour.
Using vast databases to store information gathered with the card’s use, a government could monitor everything from a citizen’s personal finances to medical history and voting activity.
The card gives the holder access to a growing range of basic services, like subsidised food, medicine, pensions and gasoline. But without the card, citizens cannot get access to these goods and services.
“What we saw in China changed everything,” said a member of the Venezuelan delegation, technical advisor Anthony Daquin. His initial amazement, he said, gradually turned to fear that such a system could lead to abuses of privacy by Venezuela’s government. “They were looking to have citizen control.”
The following year, when he raised concerns with Venezuelan officials, Daquin was detained, beaten and extorted by intelligence agents. They knocked several teeth out with a handgun and accused him of treasonous behaviour, prompting him to flee the country.
“These cards vacuum up a huge quantity of data,” says Berwick. “Every time a person scans these cards, the system will log for an instance what that person’s income is, what their job is, their address, what benefits they receive from the government, whether they’ve been participating in events by the ruling socialist party.”
And the government could be using data against their own employees too, through access to records of participation in a recent election.
“I found evidence that the government is using this database… basically as a way of assessing their loyalty to Maduro,” Berwick says.
(Articles reflect the views of the author, and not necessarily those of Luke Nash-Jones, The Red Pill Factory, or Make Britain Great Again.)