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Biometric citizen identification to enhance voter registration and identification in Zambia


Biometrics and digital ID

This is a guest post by Brenda Zulu, an ICT journalist based in Zambia.

Biometric citizen identification is expected by the Government of the Republic of Zambia to enhance the electoral process by facilitating effective voter registration and identification.

This year Zambia’s government plans to begin the enrollment exercise and commencement of the electronic civil registration of all citizen’s demographic and biometric attributes countrywide. This is in readiness for issuance of the biometric enabled digital National Registration Card (NRC), or an electronic identity document, at the cost of ZMK230 million (roughly US$12.6 million).

Delivering the Ministerial Statement to Parliament on 13th December 2019, Stephen Kapyongo, Home Affairs Minister explained the government’s position in as far as collection of biometrics for citizens was concerned.

Kapyongo said the Government of the Republic of Zambia through the Ministry of Home Affairs has revived the Integrated National Registration Information System (INRIS).

“The electronic identity card will act as a single most secure source of verifying and identifying citizenship status of persons living in Zambia whether indigenous citizens, residents or immigrants and facilitate access to transactional and non-transactional public services,” explained Kapyongo.

Meanwhile, Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ) Chief Electoral Officer Patrick Nshindano said in an interview on the Zambia National Broadcasting Corporation (ZNBC) that voter registration was necessitated by the post-election review recommendations from stakeholders and that the delimitation exercise gave birth to new electoral boundaries.

He added that the ECZ aims at creating a new voter register for the 2021 general elections.

During the integrated national registration information system enrolment process, biometrics of every citizen will be collected. These will include a photograph for facial recognition and 10 plain and rolled fingerprints for now. Later, iris images will be taken for persons whose fingerprints are not readable or may not have fully developed. It is important to take note that though biometric data will be collected from every citizen, the issuance of the biometric enabled NRC, when ready, will only be issued to those who are 16 years and above.

Earlier in November 2019, Dr. Liya Nawa Mutale, Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Home Affairs, expressed confidence that Electronic Identity Cards or eIDs will go a long way in improving the way business is done in Zambia.

Dr. Mutale said this after a weeklong engagement with a German company, Dermalog, which was in discussions with the government of Zambia regarding the collection of biometric data and issuance of electronic identity cards.

During the Zambian visit to Germany, ECZ Director IT Dylan Kasonde and others were part of the discussions, inspections and testing of different technology options for the enhancement and extension of the current Integrated National Registration Information System.

The Ministry of Home Affairs is mandated as the custodian of civil registration under the Department of National Registration Passport and Citizenship (DNRPC) to register all citizens and non-citizens in Zambia. The Ministry draws its mandate from various pieces of legislation, among them are the constitution cap 1 of the laws of Zambia, the national registration act cap 126 of the laws of Zambia, passport act 28 of 2016 of the laws of Zambia, births and deaths registration act cap 51 of the laws of Zambia, and the citizenship act 33 of 2016 of the laws of Zambia.

The Integrated National Registration Information System will enable the government to save costs in the immediate term and accrue accelerated benefits from the increase in volume and value of electronic transactions across many public sector institutions.

The identification and issuance of an authentic valid national identification document is a constitutional right for every identifiable Zambian citizen who has attained the age of sixteen (16) years according to article 42 of the laws of Zambia. This therefore entails that the collection of biometric data and eventual issuance of the first biometric enabled digital national identity document will be at no cost to the citizen.

In order to attain collection of multiple biometrics, Government shall amend Statutory Instrument Number 34 of 2019 to include for collection of other biometrics such as iris, facial and DNA in a prescribed manner. Government shall also clearly outline the specifications and standards of the enrolment equipment, which will be used for this national programme.

The challenges of the current National Registration Cards include that from 1965 when the country started the issuance of the cards to citizens aged 16 years and above, the process has remained manual and paper based because of the lack of significant investments to digitize the system.

The manual system created challenges for the national identity system which included duplication of the National Registration Card numbers, identity fraud and difficulties in issuance of replacement identity cards. It further resulted in numerous challenges in the financial and social sectors for Know-Your-Customer (KYC) operations. Consequently, there was a significant loss of revenue by government and the private sector through various schemes and services that are anchored on national identification.

Aware of the security risks associated with the collection of biometrics of citizens in relation to human rights, as enshrined in Part iii (bill of rights) of the Constitution of Zambia, Kapyongo cited Article 17 which guarantees the right to protection of privacy.

“In order to safeguard the rights of citizens in the process of collection of biometrics, government shall put stringent measures within the confines of the law to ensure that privacy and data protection was enhanced,” said Kapyongo.

To achieve the above, Government shall invoke section 4 of the National Registration Act Chapter 126 of the Laws of Zambia to appoint other public officers as registrars for all intents and purposes of collecting of biometric data from citizens. The invocation of section 4 of the National Registration Act Chapter 126 of the Laws of Zambia aforementioned, shall be supported by the subsequent issuance of standard guidelines and operation procedures. This will ensure uniformity in the processes of collection of biometrics for citizens.

Asked about what role the draft ICT bills will play in relation to civil registration, Kapyongo said he was aware that cabinet approved the introduction of ICT draft bills to parliament on the Data Protection (Repeal) Bill 2018, Cyber Security and Cyber Crimes bill, the eCommerce and eTransactions Bill and also the eGovernment Bill with a view of repealing and replacing the Electronic Communications and Transactions (ECT) ACT No. 21 of 2009.

He hoped that the ICT draft bills could become law to help facilitate civil registration.

Biometric Citizen identification is intended to enhance the security system of the country through proper identification of citizens culminating in improved service delivery, identity verification and significant savings in social cash transfers, Farmer Input Support Program (FISP), Support to Women Livelihood (SWL), pension benefits, and other such social protection programs.

Furthermore, Kapyongo explained that the biometric citizen identification has the potential to enhance compliance and therefore contribute towards increased domestic tax revenue mobilization by about 9.5 percent of GDP in the medium term.

The implementation of the biometric citizen identification project, when completed, is expected to a yield non-tax revenue of up to K7.5 billion ($410 million) annually in the form of authentication and verification fees by financial institutions and mobile network operators.

It is hoped that there will be reduced expenditure by the government treasury for investments in similar identification infrastructure which are dotted in various institutions.

Strengthening tax administration and health insurance may prove challenging to implement without a single unique identity number that can link assets, income and other indicators of wealth and health.

Further, problems of effective identification of the formal and informal sector players in the economy constrains the collection of revenue by the Zambia Revenue Authority resulting in under collection. These problems require the Government to take bold steps of making investments to digitize the entire national identification system. However, with the current fiscal challenges, these investment needs can only be achieved by leveraging resources from institutions that anchor their services on national identification.

About the author

Brenda Zulu is a journalist specialised in reporting on information communication technologies for development (ICT4D), social, science, agriculture and gender issues. Find her on LinkedIn.

DISCLAIMER: BiometricUpdate.com blogs are submitted content. The views expressed in this blog are that of the author, and don’t necessarily reflect the views of Biometric Update.

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