Biometrics and digital ID in Africa this week: BIO-key, Yoti, Simprints, iiDENTIFii and Innovatrics

Biometrics and digital ID

The coronavirus pandemic is also an opportunity for digital technology, according to the CEO of social enterprise Simprints. Elsewhere, the ongoing outbreak is the cause of fake news involving biometrics and the reason to cancel biometric capture exercises. A report from the Center for Global Development keeps us looking ahead at the longer-term benefits to development of digital ID, and a field diary from Limpopo brings some refreshing real-life detail.

Africa: Manny Alia joins BIO-key board of directors

BIO-key’s latest announcement in scaling up its Africa operations is the appointment of tech and banking heavyweight Manny Alia to its board of directors. The company recently launched a major strategy for Africa, subsequently announcing in March alone a $45 million partnership with the Nigerian government, a $30 million deal with a Nigerian telco and that its technology had been used to register 9 million customers with in-branch biometric ID system at South Africa’s Capitec Holding Company.

The company’s release states Alia is the president at Exponential Launch Partners Limited, CEO at the Technology Transfer Institute of Africa (TTI) and was a former Executive Director at JPMorgan Chase.

According to the release, Manny Alia said, “I am very excited to join the BIO-key Board of Directors to help guide the Company’s initiatives to bring their proven, state-of-the-art biometric solutions to Africa. The continent represents an enormous and growing market where the need and business opportunities for biometrics are imminent.”

Reports & Opinion

South Africa: Update from the Yoti Digital Identity Fellow’s field diary

Tshepo Magoma, Yoti’s Digital Identity Fellow in Africa, has been continuing his ground-level explorations into digital identity in South Africa, this time examining the impact on lives of having to hold an official credential to access services both public and private, in a post shared with Biometric Update ahead of publication to Yoti’s blog.

He is studying this topic in Limpopo, the north easternmost province bordering Botswana, Zimbabwe and Mozambique, with high levels of cross-border migration into South Africa.

Magoma reports on the lifelong impact of incorrect information on a person’s file, even leading to human rights violations, and that students are encouraged to obtain ID before the 11th grade to be able to take their exams, but that this has pushed exam fraud to attempting to access exam papers ahead of time rather than paying someone else to take one’s exams. He also records the reasons why people turn to ID fraud, the generational divide and lack of understanding of the impact of having ID stolen and not reporting it.

Africa: Center for Global Development on the impact of digital ID

Alan Gelb and Anit Mukherjee have penned a report looking at the positive results digital ID schemes and associated services are having on development around the world. The report by the duo at the Center for Global Development is hosted by ID4Africa.

Examples of benefits of digitization felt in Africa include paying to enter national parks in Tanzania electronically, meaning more money found its way to the park and its conservation projects. In Kenya people can use their mobile phones to invest in small slices of government bonds.

The report considers digital ID as the entry point to the three main benefits of digital technology in developing regions: identifying all parties to a transaction, cheap communications and accurate, accountable and convenient payments.

Services such as mobile payments are considered levers for extending the reach and need for digital ID and the technologies enable something of a virtuous cycle including citizens, the state and the private sector.

Coronavirus and Digital ID

As the COVID-19 outbreak continues to worsen across Africa, more states and institutions are suspending registration exercises or disabling biometric ID schemes which require touch. Yet the situation is also proving a fruitful area of opportunity for others.

Kenya/UK: Social enterprise Simprints is developing a way to identify patients and link them to the right care, and even their test results, without the need for touch. The system will allow health workers, especially in remote areas, to use smartphones for facial and palm recognition across facilities. Co-founder Toby Norman tells CNBC Africa he believes the coronavirus outbreak presents a moment for NGOs to step up their efforts in digital technology and privacy.

Ghana: Electoral Commission suspends the compilation of a controversial new voter register.

Zambia: Kagem Mining halts principal operations at its emerald mine in Lufwanyama due to fears over the coronavirus outbreak in part due to relying on biometric access.

And in Nigeria, rumors of a stimulus package of 30,000 Naira (US$77) for Nigerians who have registered their bank accounts with a biometric verification number (BVN) shines some light on the understanding of how the BVN system is seen as well as how it can be dragged into fake news.

News in Brief & Updates

In brief – South Africa: iiDENTIFii says in an announcement it has been recognized as a critical service provider, due its ability to verify individuals’ identities with facial recognition, biometric liveness, and its link to the South African Department of Home Affairs. The company wants to provide its identity verification services to banks to enable remote banking in the country, such as for retirement grant payments.

In brief – Guinea: Biometric solutions provider Innovatrics has deployed a biometric electoral register in just six months to ensure one person one vote for the upcoming parliamentary election.

Link – UNHCR: Our coverage of a vacant position for a registration and identity management officer.

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