Biometrics ID the living and the dead in Pakistan, from family registration to the morgue
In Pakistan, biometric systems are in use at both ends of the family identity spectrum; to verify its identity, and to confirm its fracture.
The National Database & Registration Authority (NADRA) has enabled processing of family registration certificates through the mobile app, Pak-ID. Aaj English TV reports that heirs applying for the certificates will be required to post public notices on NADRA’s website and provide mandatory biometric verification, be it local or remote from a foreign nation.
A post on X (still often referred to as Twitter) from NADRA’s account says users can “Process your NIC, NICOP or FRC via hassle-free services of complete processing through Pak ID Mobile App from the comfort of home.”
Through 2023 there have been regular updates to the Pak-ID app, which uses fingerprint and face biometrics to verify users, authenticate documents and facilitate digital government services such as visa applications.
On a more grim note, NADRA is also using biometrics to identify unclaimed bodies that arrive at a Karachi morgue. Arab News reports that the project has helped reduce the number of unclaimed cadavers by more than 1,200 per year since its launch in 2016, when an average of 2,750 bodies a year arrived at the facility run by the non-profit Edhi Foundation, stewards of the city’s unidentified dead for the past 75 years. Since NADRA was implemented, the number has gone down to 1,512 annually.
Police say that by scanning fingerprints on arrival at the morgue and running them against NADRA’s database, they are now able to successfully identify the deceased in 80 percent of cases.
The Arab News article describes a dire need for the biometrics system in Karachi, where ambulances regularly find dead bodies in the streets and thousands of graves marked with only numbers fill the sprawling Edhi Graveyard north of the city.
Noman Masood, the supervisor of Edhi’s mortuary, tells Arab News that many thousands of unclaimed dead bodies are buried there.
“Perhaps their family members are still hanging on the gallows of waiting,” he says, “hoping that they are still alive and will be found somewhere.”