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Biometrics and digital ID in Africa this week: SIM cards reactivated, refugee privacy concerns and coronavirus

Biometrics and digital ID in Africa this week: SIM cards reactivated, refugee privacy concerns and coronavirus

The spread of the coronavirus on the continent sees more impact on biometric services. This week we have summarized the changes made to prevent the spread of Covid-19. In other news, privacy concerns among refugees in East Africa continue as refugees voice their worries over the lack of consent for biometric capture and little information about how their data is used. In somewhat more positive news, millions more Tanzanians have had their SIM cards unblocked and the Nigerian Immigration Service has been awarded for being ‘reform-minded.’

Tanzania: 3M blocked SIMs reactivated

Of the nine million SIM cards blocked after the biometric registration requirement came into effect in January, three million have now been reactivated after successful registration, reports The Daily News.

The report quotes the director general of the Tanzania Communications Regulatory Authority as saying there are now just 6.2 million SIM cards that had not been registered as of March 13. This means 85 percent of Tanzania’s SIM cards are now biometrically linked to their owners.

Kenya: Mozilla calls for greater openness in African digital ID schemes

Business Daily Africa reports on the call from Mozilla Corporation for greater openness from African governments which operate digital and biometric ID schemes.

The policy brief, originally published in February includes systems such as Kenya’s Huduma Namba and India Aadhaar. Mozilla’s public policy lead for Africa, Alice Munyua, is quoted a saying: “The rush by governments and the international development community to deploy digital, and often biometric, identity systems is often leading to mass surveillance and denial of vital government services and benefits.”

The brief calls on governments not to use the systems to exclude individuals or deny services.

South Africa: Former Dimension Data execs invest in secure ID firm Contactable

Two former Dimension Data executives have invested in the Pretoria-based secure identity firm Contactable, reports Tech Central.

Allan Cawood and Scott Gibson have both invested and been appointed to the firm’s board with Gibson becoming the chief commercial officer.

Contactable has recently supported the launch of KYC and mobile money solutions in South Africa and is working on the ID and KYC platform for a new digital bank to be launched in the U.S. this year.

Liberia: No salary for civil servants who don’t undergo biometric capture

Liberia President George Weah has announced no March salary for civil servants who do not undergo biometric capture, reports The Daily Observer.

A multi-agency task force, The National Payroll Ghost Removal Taskforce, has been set up with a six-month mandate to tackle ghost workers and reduce the national wage bill. All new hires and promotions within the civil service will now be handled centrally as part of efforts to remove ghost workers. Government workers have until the end of March to acquire and present national biometric ID cards.

Coronavirus and African biometrics

As the number of confirmed cases of Coronavirus increase across Africa, governments and institutions continue to restrict the use of biometric systems to help reduce the risk of spreading the virus by people touching the same surfaces. Here is our roundup of the changes:

Ghana: Hohoe Municipality Assembly in Volta Region suspends biometric clocking in; the National Identification Authority to press ahead with Ghana Card biometric capture exercise despite government directive on public gatherings and concerns from the NIA’s own staff; the Right Alliance Africa has called on the Electoral Commission to suspend its controversial biometric capture of voters amid the coronavirus situation; Ghana’s NYC consulate suspends biometric capture.

Nigeria: Suspends passport service at London high commission; biometric capture suspended in Washington, Atlanta and New York consulates

Egypt: After previously suspending biometrics attendance for the judiciary, Egypt has now suspended court cases for two weeks.


Tunisia: Biometrics and Libya border defense issues

Biometric surveillance is a potential tool for tackling terrorist threats and improving security in border areas between Tunisia and Libya, according to a paper by Frederic Wehrey for the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. The U.S. encouraged the implementation of biometric enforcement, but suspicions over the technology by rights groups meant parliament voted down a draft bill to expand government collection of data.

News in brief and updates

In brief – Nigeria: The Nigerian Immigration Service has been awarded the most ‘reform-minded’ agency of 2020 at an event at the State House in Abuja, singled out for its efforts to ease doing business via reforming the visa regime, including the biometric e-visa.

In brief – Uganda: Ugandans in the diaspora complain to the Speaker of Parliament about the difficulty in attaining a national ID when abroad, citing a sole biometric capture location in North America. They voiced their concerns as part of a dialogue on the issue of land-grabbing in Uganda, as national ID cards are needed in land ownership disputes.

In brief – Nigeria: University hopefuls will no longer have to undergo biometric verification on completion of their JAMB exams, only to enter the halls to take the entry tests.

In brief – Ethiopia/Somalia: Our coverage of privacy and exclusion concerns over UNHCR’s biometric ID scheme in refugee camps in Ethiopia. Refugees have raised concerns, stating that they were not informed of the drawbacks to giving their biometrics on registering at camps. Some also fear it is used to exclude them from services should they refuse, and can be shared with third parties. Many refugees do not want their location and refugee status to be shared for fear of discrimination and even forced repatriation.

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