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Biometrics and digital ID in Africa this week: politics, ecommerce, Covid-19 biometric capture bans



Covid-19 continues to impact biometric systems across Africa. After initial reports in previous weeks of systems being suspended to reduce the risk of transmission, reports now highlight the more political angle being applied to the selective curtailment of biometric capture. Tech firms are already stepping forward to promote their no-touch biometric verification systems such as remote voice and facial recognition. And in Somalia, biometric registration is found to be helping detect and deter child soldiers.

Kenya: Groups apply pressure for biometric ID scheme regulation

Campaign group Article 19 Eastern Africa has criticized the Kenyan government’s guidelines for the country’s digital identity scheme operated by the National Integrated Identity Management System (NIIMS). The group says it threatens the right to free expression, privacy, data protection and access to information.

The Article 19 Eastern Africa division and Kenya ICT Action network submitted two memoranda calling for a “comprehensive civil registration and identity management framework be enacted through a stand-alone Act of Parliament and not via two regulatory frameworks as proposed by the government.” The two sets of regulations cover Data Protection and Registration of Persons separately.

The organizations believe the two frameworks do not respect the High Court’s orders. The groups recommend passing a single act of parliament and the provision of explicit safeguards for the collection, processing and use of people’s data.

Coronavirus & Africa biometrics

A roundup of how the ongoing Covid-19 situation is affecting digital ID and biometric projects across Africa.

Liberia: The Foreign Ministry has suspended the issuance of passports, reports the Liberian Observer, after the country recorded its first two cases of the coronavirus. The reason given is to maintain social distancing. According to the article, the Bureau of Passports is one of the government’s busiest departments with hundreds of citizens assembling each week in the basement of the foreign ministry to apply for documents. The passport application process including biometric capture can take up to six hours. The country is in a dire economic situation and has previously run low on blank passports.

Sierra Leone: Opposition politicians have called for the ban on public gatherings to also apply to the National Civil Authority’s biometric registration process. The registration process has proved controversial as opposition believe it will be used to control who can vote.

Nigeria: The National Youth Service Corps suspends biometric clearance; all services at the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB) that require biometric verification have been suspended for two weeks.

Ghana: The Ghana Maritime Authority suspends biometric systems in part over fear of infected sailors coming into port.

South Africa: iiDENTIFii claims its facial recognition technology can maintain system security during the Covid-19 pandemic by providing no-touch authentication and as education goes online, the company states its systems can remotely verify students taking exams online.

News in brief and updates

In brief – Nigeria: BIO-key wins a US$45 million contract to build biometrically secured e-commerce infrastructure across Nigeria. The 18-month software and hardware contract will also support the Nigerian Ministry of Labour’s program to create jobs for a million recent college graduates.

In brief – Somalia: A U.S. report into Somalia’s human rights situation has found that biometrics are helping prevent the recruitment of child soldiers both by detecting and deterring children. Four children already serving have also been identified and returned to their families.

In brief – Nigeria: Abia State has begun the biometric capturing of pensioners to remove ghost workers from the books and reduce the state’s monthly N21 billion (US$56.8 million) pension bill.

Link – UN: Our coverage of a UN bootcamp on issues including digital identity and biometrics such as its work with the Egypt National Post.

Link – Africa: Our coverage of the partnership between LumenVox and OneVault to launch advanced voice biometrics solutions in Africa.

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