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Confusion greets Ghana Card PKD inclusion announcement by ICAO

Document confirmed as compliant with standards used for biometric passports
Confusion greets Ghana Card PKD inclusion announcement by ICAO

A development this past week suggesting that Ghana’s national biometric ID card dubbed Ghana Card has been okayed by the International Civil Aviation Authority (ICAO) for inclusion in the public key directory along with internationally acceptable travel documents has raised much controversy, especially within the Ghanaian media. There was similar controversy late last year when the announcement was first made.

Last week, ICAO organized a ceremony to welcome Ghana into the ICAO Public Key Directory (PKD), which is a central repository needed to verify and authenticate biographic and biometric information on international travel documents such as digital passports, electronic ID cards and visible digital seals, reports Business Ghana.

ICAO itself even tweeted congratulating Ghana for successfully joining the ICAO-PKD program, highlighting some of the advantages that come with it.

After the ceremony that took place at the ICAO headquarters in Montreal, Canada, reports suggested that the ceremony meant the Ghana Card has been declared by the UN specialized aviation body as a travel document equivalent to a biometric passport.

But ICAO has clarified that this is a misrepresentation, as it is not the industry body’s responsibility to decide which ID document is accepted as a travel pass anywhere, because this rests strictly with individual states.

Ghana Card to be accepted in 44,000 airports?

Acceptance into the PKD means the Ghana Card can henceforth be accepted as a travel document into Ghana from 44,000 airports and the 197 ICAO-complaint countries for the exchange of government-held identity data.

As Business Ghana reports, the process will become operational in a few months from now because the Ghana Immigration Service needs time to link the system with the National Identification Authority (NIA) database. According to the arrangement, all Ghanaians living in the diaspora who are holders of the Ghana Card can travel to their country without the need for a visa or other travel documentation such as a passport.

Among those who celebrated this development was Ghana’s Vice President Dr. Mahamudu Bawumia who composed a statement read during the Montreal event.

“This makes Ghana one of the few countries in the world where the national ID card meets the e-passport standards of the ICAO. This means that with this key ceremony, all holders of the Ghana Card who have e-passports that are compliant with ICAO standards can be read and verified at all ICAO compliant airports/border posts across the world,” said Dr. Bawumia, per Business Ghana.

He was quoted as recalling: “I am happy to remind you that on 13th October, 2021, Ghana officially became the 79th member of the ICAO PKD community. The PKD, a central repository for exchanging the information required to authenticate e-passports, allows border control authorities to confirm that the e-passport is issued by the right authority, has not been altered and is not a copied or cloned document.”

ICAO says reports ‘incorrect’

Numerous media outlets implied that the acceptance into the PKD entailed automatic acceptance of the biometric Ghana Card in airports around the world. In the wake of these reports, the body made some clarifications in a series of tweets.

“ICAO is aware of recent and incorrect media reports claiming that ICAO has agreed that the Ghanaian ID card is equivalent to an ePassport. However, it is not ICAO’s role to certify the use of a State’s Identity Card for international travel in place of a passport,” one of the tweets reads.

ICAO said it is the place of every sovereign country to decide upon its entry and exit requirements and the documents that must be presented by those travelling into or out of its territory.

“A number of states worldwide accept specified national ID cards as identity documents during air travel based on bilateral agreement between issuing and receiving states. Any decision to accept such alternative travel identity documents is made by the receiving state itself. Ghana’s successful conclusion of its key ceremony on 9 February is a major milestone in its efforts to provide for more international acceptance of its electronic travel documents,” ICAO noted.

VP says ICAO misunderstood, insists ID will be used internationally

Meanwhile, after the reaction from ICAO to the media reports, the Ghanaian Vice President was quick to come out again on the issue, calling on Ghanaians to forget about what he calls a misinterpretation of ICAO’s statement, reports GhanaWeb.

A statement issued by his spokesman insists that the Ghana Card will henceforth be accepted as an international travel document into the country as it needed prior acceptance by ICAO into its Public Key Directory before bilateral agreements with other countries follow.

“Just like our current normal booklet passport, you will need ICAO to approve and capture the data into their Public Key Directory for certification before any country can accept it as an official travel document. Ghana has crossed this stage with respect to the Ghana Card, making it officially certified as having the right qualities to be admissible by receiving countries as e-passport, subject to country-to-country bilateral agreements,” the statement issued by the VP’s spokesman noted.

“Through the Ghana Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA), official communication has gone to all border ports that Ghana as a receiving country is accepting holders of the Ghana Card into Ghana. The statement by ICAO that Ghana has crossed the major milestone to provide for more acceptance of its biometric electronic travel documents is therefore not inconsistent with official communication from government,” he clarified.

What actually happened

The ICAO has endorsed the Ghana Card as having the qualities to be used as a biometric passport for international travels, but it has not decided if the digital ID card should be accepted as such because it is not within its competence to do so.

On the other hand, the PKD inclusion allows foreign governments to begin accepting the Ghana Card as a travel document once they have bilateral agreements with the Ghanaian government in place. This process is already underway, according to the Vice President’s spokesman. It therefore now remains to be seen when exactly the Ghana Card will go into effect for international travel, and where.

Other ID cards used in localized international travel include new European documents and ECOWAS cards.

This post was updated at 1:52pm Eastern on February 17, 2022 to clarify that ICAO approval is for inclusion in the PKD based on its standards, which alone does not make the Ghana Card an international travel document.

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