Q&A: HID Global on the African digital identity status quo

As the flagship ID4Africa event opens in South Africa, HID Global talks to Biometric Update about the developments in digital ID in Africa. Fresh after the announcement of acquiring De La Rue’s international identity solutions business, HID Global’s Joby Mathew, Director of Citizen Identity Solutions, Africa and Middle East, shares his experiences in an email exchange, ahead of his talk on advanced technology for border crossings at ID4Africa 2019 in Johannesburg this week.

Have the key challenges to the design and delivery of digital identity services in Africa changed over the last few years? If so, how?

Yes, they have. Over the years, the use of advanced technology in creating and using smart Government IDs has resulted in a tremendous growth in available data, which has improved security, data management and environment adaptability while eliminating human error and acting as a deterrent to criminals. The information in biometrically-created Government IDs cannot easily be mis-entered, altered or forged, and takes the error-prone visual inspection element out of things such as border management systems, and casts the widest possible net in pursuing persons of interest.

Some countries have tried to implement legal digital identity programs and had poor uptake by the public and service providers (whether public sector or private). Why is that?

One of the biggest challenges we have faced is reaching vast populations. For example, as part of rebuilding Angola’s infrastructure, the nation’s government decided to replace its outdated national identity documents in the mid 2000’s with an ID card system that would also provide proof of identity to its entire population of 24.3 million citizens. This proved to be a daunting task given that 62% of the population lives in widely dispersed urban areas and 38 percent live in hard-to-access rural areas.
What innovations in approach and/or technology are being offered by HID to address those challenges?

One of the key technologies that we have introduced is a web-based visa and residence permit service that allows travellers and residents of a country to apply for and receive validated credentials. With this end-to-end citizen ID solution, we can issue e-Passports with advanced physical and electronic security features such as facial, iris and fingerprint biometrics, allowing for a single citizen identification system that spans the entire identity journey from data capture to issuance.

What can be done to speed up national e-ID implementations such as those committed to by ECOWAS?

End-to-end solutions for national ID that already comply with the recommendations provided by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and international standards for travel identity documents play a part in speeding up implementations.

With these compliant solutions, government agencies in the ECOWAS region have the choice to directly source cards or buy specific components to fulfill their e-ID Card programs. Everything from polycarbonate inlays and cards to chips and a Common Criteria-certified chip operating system, are available – all of which are aligned to ECOWAS recommendations.

Per ECOWAS guidelines, compliant card and inlay options use polycarbonate materials, include an aluminum watermark and are compatible with inductive coupling, dual-interface chip technology so there is no physical contact between the card’s module and antenna. Such cards have been fully tested against ISO24789 requirements for a minimum 10-year lifespan.

What is the role of ID4Africa in the continent’s digital ID ecosystem? Who would HID like to see join the event?

At this year’s conference in Johannesburg, there will be an exhibition of mobile ID solutions for government identification, a broad range of biometric solutions, cloud-based ID issuance for remote areas and a showcase of award-winning ePassport solutions. We look forward to welcoming decision-makers from across the continent to come and share vital information and experiences with experts from different fields.

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