At the Departamento de Policia Federal

Both human rights advocates and the police seem to be strongly in favour of the new RIC system as a means of social inclusion and to replace the chaotic and corrupt identification system based in individual Brazilian states at present, which allows anyone with any other form of ID to get a state Registro Geral card in each different state.

Departemento de Policia Federal, Brasilia
Departamento de Policia Federal, Brasilia

I have just come back from a very productive interview with Romulo Berredo, from the Director-General’s office at the Departamento de Policia Federal (DPF), who are the Brazilian equivalent of the FBI. There was a lot covered and I couldn’t hope to reproduce it all here. There were however a number of immediately interesting aspects.

The first was more evidence that the whole basis on which identity cards and database issues are being considered here is entirely different from the UK. Now I know this represents a police, and a state, view, but so far, both Brazilian human rights advocates and the police seem to be strongly in favour of the new Registro de Identidade Civil (RIC) system. This is both as a means of social inclusion and to replace the chaotic and corrupt identification system based in individual Brazilian states at present, which allows anyone with any other form of ID to get a state Registro Geral card in each different state. It is fairly easy to acquire 27 different identities in Brazil at present. And identification is important here. The great fear that many people seem to have – indeed it was called a ‘cultural’ characteristic by Berredo – is not the use of identification by the state as a form of control or intrusion but as a guarantee against the anonymity that would allow abuses by the state or indeed by other malicious persons. It provides a metaphysical and material kind of certainty and stability. The legacy of the last dictatorship was not so much an East German-style nightmare of knowledge and order but of corrupt and arbitrary rule.

It is this latter legacy which also drives the divisions between the different police forces in Brazil. The states-based Policia Militar (Military Police) and Policia Civil are both tainted in different ways by associations with authoritarian rule, and the former particularly with extra-legal execution and torture, and they continue to be regarded with caution, suspicion or even hatred by many Brazilians. The other police forces are also suspicious of the growing role of the DPF, which is often seen in terms of a power struggle not rational subsidiarity. Ironically then it is the states-based police forces that are dragging their heels over plans to create the kinds of national databases of criminal information that the UK has, and not for any libertarian reasons. In fact the DPF seem far more concerned with protecting human rights and defending the idea of citizenship, and because they are tasked with anti-corruption investigations have even arrested Senators and Judges, something unheard of even ten years ago. Of course those very same Senators and Judges are now fighting back, in a manner rather similar to Berlusconi in Italy, trying to alter the law to give immunities and protections. For example, handcuffing of arrested suspects was always normal until it happened to a Senator arrested for corruption. The Senate suddenly became interested in the ‘human rights’ of arrested suspects and passed a law limiting the use of handcuffs! Corruption at every level is still an enormous problem here, though Berredo argued that it was largely associated with those who had retained power from the years of the dictatorship.

The concentration on inclusion and joining-up government where it is clearly much needed does however lead to some gaps in thinking. The creation of new databases brings with it new duties and new potential problems of data-handling. As the privacy and data-protection law expert, Danilo Doneda, pointed out to me the other day, Brazil is in an almost unique position in not having any kind of regulator for privacy and information / data rights. He argued it was because the authorities just don’t see the need. Berredo confirmed this. He claimed that the DPF were trusted by the public – and relative to other police forces, that is certainly true! – and that they had to carry out their duties appropriately or they would lose that trust. It sounds nice, but it isn’t a good-enough (or legally-sound) basis for the protection of data-rights.

It all confirmed once again that Brazil is not yet a surveillance society – the state does not yet have the capabilities. There is no national database of fingerprints (even for convicted criminals) for example. But as Berredo said, it is moving in that direction. He was keen that there should be be limits. I liked the fact that he used this word. ‘Limits’ is a word that I found that the neither the UK government nor the European Commission seem to like, and they seem very unwilling to say what limits might be. However Berredo was quite clear that a technologically-driven surveillance future in which individuals could be tracked – he used the example of Google Latitude – was not one which he wanted to see. He recognised that he was both a policemen (at work) and a private citizen (at home) and that he, as much as anyone else, valued his privacy.

(Thank-you very much to Delegado Romulo Barredo of the DPF, for his openness, time and patience, and also to Agent Alessandre Reis, for his help)

Identity and Identification in Brazil (continued)

…the Brazilian driving licence is a goldmine of personal information…

I spent a little while over the last couple of days examining the actual material identity documents currently required in Brazil. Here are some pictures with a little explanation. There will be a lot more in the final article!

The first is the simplest but in many ways the most important to life-chances. This is the Cadastro de Pessoas Físicas (CPF) (Register of Physical (or Natural) Persons) card (or Taxpayer’s Card).


‘Pessoas Físicas’ is a a piece of legalese that is draws a distinction between humans and other ‘legal persons’, like corporations or governments. The CPF number is issued to all those who pay tax and is essential if one wants any formal work. The actual document is a blue plastic card like old-style credit cards, which also has a machine readable magnetic strip on the back.

The number is also required for many other government transactions, and it is, apparently a major disaster if you lose the card, or if for some reason, your CPF number is rescinded (which can happen if you don’t pay tax in Brazil for more than a year, for example if you are abroad, without explanation). Many people who live in the favelas, and who are involved in the shadow economy do not have a CPF, which is a severe obstacle to social inclusion.

The second document is the Registro Geral (General Registry) (ID) card, a double-sided piece of thick paper, just larger than a credit card. It is oriented vertically at the front and horizontally at the back.

RG card

As I noted in the first post I made on this subject, the RG card cross-references the CPF and also birth certification (it lists the full names of both mother and father and city and state of origin). This card is the one that is being replaced by the new RIC smartcard ID system.

Finally, we have the Carteira Nacional de Habilitação, the driving licence which, despite its name, is issued at state rather than national-level. The colour and format differs from state-to-state, however they all have pretty much the same level of information (a lot!) and cross-identification with other forms of ID. This one is from Paraná, which is a paper usually folded in half horizontally. It is specifically forbidden to laminate it.


The Brazilian driving licence is a goldmine of personal information. Partly this is because the licence had been intended to be a unifying piece of identification (a practice typical of ‘autocentric’ cultures!), containing all the information on both the CPF card and the RG card, and more. This will now not be the case following the issuing of the new RIC cards, so it will be interesting to see if the quantity of information on these licences will be reduced or, if not, what the justification will be for having this much visible personal information on one paper document.

The new Brazilian ID system

The new Brazilian ID-card
The new Brazilian ID-card (from Renato Siqueira's Conversa Digital)

There are more details of the new Brazilian ID card and system on Renato Siqueira’s Conversa Digital blog, including some informative images and photos. It seems that far from eliminating the various different numbers currently used, this new system will merely create a kind of overlay. And, not only that, but the CPF, RG and electoral number will be printed on the back. Unless every single transaction will actually require the taking of fingerprints or the verification of photos, this card will be even more of a convenient source of personal information to thieves and fraudsters than ever before. Plus the chip technology is the same standard format that has proved to easy to clone and access illicitly elsewhere…

Identity and Identification in Brazil

My host and colleague here at PUCPR, Rodrigo Firmino, and I are working on a small bit of research and a paper for The Second Multidisciplinary Workshop on Identity in the Information Society (IDIS 09), at the the London School of Economics, on June 9th this year.

Our paper is based around a case of identity theft, which is endemic in Brazil, which we use to open up the laws, practices and technologies of identification here. One thing that is already clear is that Brazil is a highly bureaucratic state – for example, the forms you need to fill in just to get a mobile phone are incredible in their detail – yet the forms of identification which one needs for every transaction with the state and many private organisations too, are highly insecure.

One example is that every personal cheque has printed on it not only the usual information (bank name and address, bank sort code, account holder name and account number), but also has the 11-digit Cadastro de Pessoas Fisicas (CPF) (a taxpayer’s card) number and the 9-digit Registro Geral (RG) (the national ID card) number. This must be a utter joy to fraudsters and identity thieves!

What’s more, all these are not just numbers in a database somewhere but physical documents in their own right, and on each there is a lot of this cross-identification: the CPF card also has the name and date of birth, the CPF number is ubiquitous, appearing also on the RG card and the driving licence. The latter has its own 11-digit registration number, but also has the RG number, name, and place and date of birth. What is even more interesting is that the RG card not only contains a photo and a thumbprint (the state database contains prints of all 10 fingers and thumbs), but also the names of both parents. This means it can be related more easily to the birth certificate. It reminds me a little of the Japanese system which still prioritises the family above the individual in some ways, but there is no actual equivalent of the koseki, the Japanese family register.

Now, in the name of security and “para integrar os bancos de dados de diversos órgãos dos sistemas de identificação do Brasil” (to inegrate the databases of the diverse organisations of identification systems in Brazil), the Ministry of Justice is proposing to merge some of these – the RG, CPF, Driving Licence and Electoria Regisirtation, into a new, smart, Registro de Identidade Civil (RIC) card based on a unique number. Whilst this will have many of the same problems as new smart ID systems everywhere else, at the very least it might stop Brazilian citizens carrying around multiple documents that list almost everything thieves and fraudsters need and can access without any sophisticated equipment. The process is due to start now, and run until 2017, so we will be taking a look at this as it proceeds.

I’ll put some pictures up with explanations later today…