Digital ID in Africa this week: demand for national biometric projects challenge capacities

Biometrics were firmly a part of the continental conversation in parts of Africa this week. In Kenya, at the start of a last-minute week-long extension to Huduma Namba registration, the governor of Nairobi County set out his plans to begin biometric monitoring of City Hall staff. In Ghana, a mention of the online portal for Ghana Card registration during a radio interview drove so much traffic it took down the website. Also in Ghana, the electoral commission outlined its plans to acquire a new set of biometric kits for voter registration exercises, and to investigate bringing data management in-house.

Meanwhile in Malawi’s biometrically-vetted general election, the vice president and presidential candidate Saulos Chilima was initially barred from voting in Lilongwe after his profile had accidentally been transferred elsewhere by staff, according to Malawi24.

Ghana: New biometric kits for voter registration

Ghana’s electoral commissioner, Jean Mensa, has announced that it will purchase new biometric capture kits for voter registration during a press conference on upcoming electoral registration exercises, according to The Finder. The commission has also signaled the intent to bring data handling in-house.

The electoral commission has decided on a longer-term, narrower registration procedure rather than a quicker, mass campaign to reduce the cost of kit procurement. “We had a proposal to refurbish the existing kit that we had procured. If we compare them to modern technology, you’re going to pay less for bringing on board modern technology,” said Mensa, “We will be saving this nation some good money if we go in for modern, user-friendly gadgets as opposed to what you have in 2011 that is costly to maintain and also costly to buy.”

The cost of refurbishing the current devices was put at $56M, whereas buying new kits would be $20 million less, according to Joy Online.

The initial kits were provided by GenKey, and deployed by the Ghana-based contractor SuperTech Limited (STL). It is not clear whether GenKey will be the supplier again for the 2020 elections, after providing the equipment for the 2008, 2012 and 2016 elections.

Mensa is reported as saying that the EC put a request to STL to service the 13,000 biometric kits ahead of a referendum. STL apparently quoted $1.7M for this, to which Mensa suggested a $200,000 budget for the agency’s own IT department to undertake the task. STL said that the IT staff were “untrainable”.

The EC is also taking steps to own its IT systems and biometric data center rather than relying on STL at an annual cost of $4M, according to the Ghana News Agency.

Ghanaians are currently registering for national identity cards (see below). The electoral commission is a partner agency for the Ghana Card scheme, though it is not yet clear when and if the biometric Ghana Card system will replace biometric voter registration.

According to the Ghana Card website, “The Ghana Card has a 140k chip with 14 applets and the capacity to accommodate all other cards in circulation. We are likely to have fewer cards in the future when adequate harmonization of systems with the other ID card issuing agencies have been done.”

Kenya: Biometric staff monitoring to begin

The initial one-week extension for registration will roll into local registration at Assistant Chief’s Offices once the dedicated enrollment ends on May 25, government spokesperson Cyrus Oguna is reported to have said by Capital FM. Reports put the number of people enrolled at 35 or 36 million of a target of 40 million. Some Kenyans may have to re-register if the data they provided does not match that already held on them, Oguna is also reported to have said.

Following Kenya’s mass registration for national ID cards, Nairobi is to install biometric verification equipment to improve efficiency and monitor staff, as reported by Capital News.

Registration for the controversial Huduma Namba scheme to create a “single truth” was initially intended to end on May 18 before being given a one-week extension. On May 20, at an impromptu tour of all of City Hall’s offices, Nairobi County Governor Mike Sonko ordered the installation of the ‘Biometric System’ in Nairobi County offices to monitor staff hours, weed out ghost workers and improve efficiency.

“I have instructed our County Secretary and Human Resource Department to make sure we have the system as soon as possible because we want to know who comes to work and never reports to work as required,” Sonko is reported as saying. Nairobi County, with almost 13,000 staff will be the first to introduce the biometric system.

Security personnel are also being registered by the Huduma Namba scheme and their weapons registered, a process which takes two days. This has led to concerns that the National Police Reservists are being left unarmed, something which Marakwet East sub county police commander Vincent Kitili has denied, as reported by Kenya News. Out of date rifles will be replaced and all firearms will be re-registered and re-branded with the holder’s details, according to the Kenya News Agency.

The scheme has proved such a significant event for Kenyans, that “Huduma Namba” even became the most searched-for term on Google in the country in April.

Kenya: Concerns over Huduma Namba data security

Kenya’s mass biometric registration exercise has also raised concerns over the security of the data captured by the National Integrated Identity Management System (NIIMS). The ICT Ministry has come out to reassure people, as reported by The Star.

Various groups have brought their concerns to court in Kenya. The ICT Ministry’s Loyford Murithi has now filed an affidavit to vouch for the integrity of the system, according to The Star.

Murithi is reported to have said that all biometrics are encrypted immediately as they are captured whether the kit is on- or offline and that, “a data breach on NIIMS database would only reveal encrypted templates of personal identity information, which cannot be unmasked without the requisite decryption key”.

According to the affidavit, Murithi said Kenya’s system borrowed from Estonia’s identity system: “The government chose the model from Estonia because both countries keep a digitally centralized master population register of all their respective citizens and registered foreign nationals resident within the boundaries”.

Murithi is also reported to have dismissed concerns that NIIMS uses kits made by OT-MORPHO, the former name for IDEMIA which faces multiple investigations in the country, saying that IDEMIA’s software is not being used as software has been provided locally. “All the registration and encryption programs that run on the said hardware components of NIIMS were developed and installed locally by the state.”

Kenyan Ministry of Information, Communications and Technology Director Shared Services Robert Mugo will report to ID4Africa on the National Integrated Identity Management System (NIIMS) and the Huduma Namba during day 1 of the movement’s annual conference.

Ghana: Registration website shutdown after surge in users

Ghana’s National Identification Agency (NIA) registration portal has been temporarily taken down after a spike in attempts to pre-register online for the Ghana Card following a radio interview with the agency’s Executive Secretary, Prof. Ken Attafuah, where he mentioned the site as a way to register, as reported by Graphic Online.

The agency site is currently redirecting to a PDF statement which explains that the site was not fully operational when Attafuah mentioned it on Joy FM: “The NIA appreciates the interest shown in the use of the online portal as an alternative to filling the registration forms at the registration centers and is working assiduously to restore the service.”

Churches have been authorized as registration centers, in return for Sunday sessions dedicated to registering their congregations, according to media reports.

The West African nation’s registration process has met several other difficulties since registration began on April 29, with long lines creating opportunities for corruption, even leading to civil action to stop officers moonlighting.

Vice President Dr. Mahamudu Bawumia, has this week come out in praise of the NIA’s scheme and staff, saying, “we wanted to make sure people when they come to apply for the National ID card to a large extent they can receive the cards before they leave the premises, so that we don’t have this whole process of people applying and not collecting and so on,” as reported by the Daily Guide.

Meanwhile NIA CEO Ken Attafuah has said on another radio interview with Starr Chat that this has been his “worst job”. “It’s not just the insults or attacks or the pressure that comes with it but everything with it. All I have always tried to do is to serve my nation with the best that I have in me but you can’t get all to appreciate it from that point of view,” he told Starr Chat. “There are 11 people we have sacked and 5 that have been suspended over the same reports that the media has been running. In the ones that are of criminal in nature, I’m not touching it. I want the criminal procedure to take place and deal with those involved because that’s what it ought to be.”

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