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Possibilities and teething difficulties for African biometrics and digital ID

Possibilities and teething difficulties for African biometrics and digital ID

Ahead of the ID4Africa event in Johannesburg, digital ID related companies are releasing think pieces on the future possibilities for living with biometrics-based identity in Africa, with an emphasis on end-user control. These contrast with the experiences of a Kenyan trying to register for one such life-changing scheme, Huduma Namba.

HID Global: towards a low-cost platform and individual control

HID Global senior director and product marketing manager, Steve Warne, spoke to Hypertext about his company’s work in Tanzania as an example of the possibilities for providing ID for all.

An overarching system where data can be used in many different ways is key, according to Warne. E-Passports and e-Documents are a key step to launching such an all-encompassing identification program, which would be built on biometrics. HID is working with the government of Tanzania on implementing an e-Immigration platform for web-based visa applications and residence permits.

“Their program enables them to adapt to changing standards, adopt new capabilities and issue many different types of ID documents. It encompasses all critical system elements spanning the entire identity journey from data capture and enrolment including biometric identification, to application process, adjudication, data preparation, personalization and issuance,” said Warne according to Hypertext.

The various components of an identification system would work together and be easily handled on mobile devices and by operators who would not require extensive training, all authenticated via a single, low-cost verification infrastructure. At the same time, such systems empower citizens to keep control of their identities: “A document management system should be able to support the move to mobile ID’s as well as the verification infrastructure for authenticating them, mobile technologies will give citizens greater control over what identification information they share.”

IDECO: Realizing the future value of digital ID

“Digital identity is about a great deal more than just a digitized identity – which could be little more than a digital version of a physical identity document,” said Ideco CEO Marius Coetzee, reported by Intelligent CIO.

The South African biometrics and identity services firm’s CEO hopes governments meeting at ID4Africa will be “cognizant of how identity will be viewed in years to come – when it will rightly be recognised as the most valuable asset a person can own… Realizing the true potential of digital identity means taking a long-term view now”.

Coetzee predicts not just advantages for users, but for governments via efficiencies, fraud prevention and opportunities for revenue generation: “Identity is key to critical services and participation in financial, social and political systems. So future-proof digital identity systems must give individuals full control and ownership over their digital identities within a framework that assures security and trust for issuers and acquirers.”

Such ‘future-proof’ systems will depend on a joined-up approach across government departments, and even across regions.

“With the right technologies and integrated ecosystem in place, individuals could enjoy seamless travel through airports and across borders, paper-free rental and purchasing processes and infinitely simplified access to government services,” said Coetzee.

As governments equip themselves for operating with comprehensive identification frameworks, Coetzee points out how the data itself will continue to form the core, “Governments should also be aware that they do not need to own the actual technology in this new environment – all they need to own is the data that determines the value associated with the identity.”

KICTANet associate: in Kenya the reality does not match the brochure

Joining the national biometric-based ID scheme could be a lifelong battle according to Liz Orembo, an associate of KICTANet, a Kenyan group which monitors ICT related policies in Kenyan and has been critical of the implementation of the national ID registration scheme, Huduma Namba.

Writing for GenderIT.org, Orembo states that the benefits of the “one single truth” $59 million biometric ID system remain unobtainable for those who do not have the documentation required to register and were unable to attain the documents in the registration period. Her account also includes the potential hazards for those who are unable to register.

Orembo uses a case study of 18-year-old woman Nyangi who was not allowed to register for Huduma Namba number due to lacking the necessary documentation. Nyangi was born at home and her parents did not apply for a birth certificate. She lives in an area prone to flooding and while having a biometric-based ID would be ideal for her as household belongings are frequently washed away, she is missing documents for this very reason.

Nyangi foresees problems with obtaining an ID card without her Huduma Namba and is concerned about police who harass and lock up youths without a card. She also fears she will not be able to access government aid such as the Community Development Fund and Joint College Admission.

Even when registered, accessing ID-related services such as passport application requires a fresh application and queuing to register the biometric information, according to Orembo.

Despite the scale of the ID operation, Kenya does not have a clear data protection policy. “To the government, data protection means a secure database for the Integrated Identification System. Kenya has two data protection policies in development,” writes Orembo. “One produced by the Senate, as the ministry of ICT and the parliament were reluctant to develop policy until the enforcement of the GDPR, and the one from the ICT ministry that is yet to be tabled in parliament.”

“Data protection still doesn’t matter much to the government,” adds Orembo, noting that the government frequently acts against court orders.

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