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South Africa’s planned child biometric registration stirs privacy concerns

Jamaica says national identification system secure
South Africa’s planned child biometric registration stirs privacy concerns

The proposed new policy in South Africa which seeks to have some biometric features of babies captured at birth in order to reduce incidents of identity and citizenship theft has met with a torrent of criticisms related to data and privacy issues, a report by Thomson Reuters Foundation suggests.

Meanwhile, authorities in Jamaica have given assurances that biometric data being collected for the national identification database will be encrypted in order to avoid any data breaches, according to the Jamaica Information Service (JIS).

The Thomson Reuters report quotes digital rights experts as saying the new policy proposed by the South African department of home affairs could suffer major data issues – including biometric data theft and misuse — if proper safeguards are not taken into consideration.

As per the policy, biometric details of every child such as photos of their eyes, hands, feet and ears, will be captured at birth and will help in the establishment of what authorities call a legal record of existence.

Dr. Joseph Atick, the executive director of ID4Africa told Thompson Reuters Foundation there is need for the development and promotion of data protection and privacy laws and legal frameworks “before embracing digital identity…” because “…the threat to privacy is real.”

According to the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the situation appears preoccupying because although South Africa passed a Protection of Personal Information Act in 2013, some key sections of the legislation are yet to go into force. The report goes on to cite a major data incident in 2019 when the city of Johannesburg’s website suffered a ransomware when hackers got hold of private data and threatened to publish them against a ransom from the government in Pretoria.

“Digital identity systems are complex and there needs to be significant … oversight to ensure that any system that is implemented is not subject to abuse. As members of the public increasingly – and rightfully – demand agency over their personal information, we need to ensure that any digital identity system is robust, secure, trustworthy, lawful and inclusive,” Avani Singh, director of privacy law firm, ALT, told Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Secure digital ID system for Jamaica

In Jamaica, the program director of the country’s national identification system (NIDS) has assured that all biometric data collected for the purpose will be encrypted in a way that cannot be accessed by anyone without the necessary resources and authorization.

Jamaica Information Service quoted Warren Vernon as saying in a virtual town hall that adequate measures have been taken to ensure there are no breaches by enrolment officers. He said other steps have been taken to ensure identity security and the safeguard of information collected from citizens, all in a bid to make the process secure.

“Your fingerprint and facial image will be encrypted, so that a regular person just can’t access it like that unless you have the resources or the authority to decrypt the information. Additionally, your fingerprint and your facial image will be kept offline. We are only using your facial image and your finger print to ensure that your identity is unique and to protect [against] identity theft,” Vernon said during the town hall dedicated to the national identification and registration Act 2020 – a piece of legislation that is expected to lay the groundwork for a secure national digital identification system.

JIS also quoted the NIDS boss as assuring that when the biometric ID program gets underway, unique addresses will be made available to citizens and a secure nine-digit national identification number issued to them infinitely so as to enable them carry out a number of activities online and otherwise.

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