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Dec 07, 2012

South Africa gears up to roll out ID smart cards

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Germany|Morocco|South Africa|Switzerland|New Year's Day|Fingerprint Biometric Technology|Government Systems|Inform-ation Technology|Fatima Chohan|Manny De Freitas|Naledi Pandor|Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma|Fingerprint Biometric Technology|Inform-ation Technology|Smart Card|Smart Card System|Smart Card Technology
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The Department of Home Affairs (DHA) will not be going ahead with its plans to issue ID smart cards to first-time applicants by this month, but has averred it will start doing so early in the new year. This will be the first wave of the transition from the current green ID book to the ID smart cards.

At a Parliamentary portfolio committee meeting, in March, the then Home Affairs Minister, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, stated that the DHA planned to issue the first ID smart cards to all first-time applicants by December 2012.

“This will not go ahead as planned because the department is behind schedule in terms of issuing the cards to citizens in December, as the cards [are still] in the design phase, ready for implementation only by early 2013,” says Home Affairs Minister Naledi Pandor.

The DHA’s 2011/12 annual report states that the piloting and deployment of key programmes, such as the ID smart card, have not been achieved owing to a lack of funding. Most of these programmes will be achieved through the Home Affairs System Modernisation Programme.

Pandor notes that the ID smart card required a thorough process of designing functional and technical specifications, which took longer than expected.

“With the involvement of various internal and external stakeholders, the process required extensive consultation with all the parties involved and, in some cases, they were not always available. This slowed down the progress of the process, as we needed to ensure that the card met the requirements of all participating stakeholders.”

The department says the transition to the ID smart card is important, as the current ID book is not sufficient to match new technologies and transactions under the inform-ation technology (IT) modernisation project.

The DHA’s 2011/12 annual report states that the modernisation programme is budgeted for in the 2012/13 financial year and will be rolled out according to the definitive agreement that will be signed by all the parties involved.

“The smart card will first be launched as a pilot, where senior management of the DHA will use the cards for one year to establish how practical, functional and durable they are. Considering that many government systems will depend on this smart card, it is important for the DHA to get it absolutely right, since even small errors with the card could lead to a huge national crisis,” says Home Affairs Deputy Minister Fatima Chohan.

Democratic Alliance shadow Minister of Home Affairs Manny de Freitas agrees with Chohan, adding that it is imperative that the DHA is cautious in approaching a project of this magnitude.

“The previous Minister, Dlamini-Zuma mentioned that her aim was to have the entire country use the ID smart card in the 2014 election process. It is an unrealistic aim to have something of this magnitude done in two years to such an extent that it can be used as part of voter identification,” he says.

“Nowhere in the world has it happened that quickly and the reason is that this is an intricate and technical system and, because of its complicated nature, it must be treated with the upmost care. We have to be well aware that we are dealing with people’s identifications, with the intention to add further personal information in the long term.”

The personalisation of the cards will be done at the Government Printing Works (GPW) and the cards will also be manufactured and printed at the GPW.

The DHA initially indicated that it would produce about 2 000 smart cards for the pilot programme, but the number has been reduced to 1 000.

“For this pilot phase, we designed a card based on best practices, assembled it with polycarbonate materials of high-quality standards. It has the qualities of a typical smart card, with biometric security features embedded in a microchip; consequently, this card meets the standards that the department envisaged for the citizens of this country,” explains Pandor.

The DHA is currently in the first phase of the pilot project, during which IT systems will be tested, including the hardware and software to be used in the production of the ID smart cards.

The DHA says it is in the process of finalising the roll-out plan, which will need approval from relevant structures – hence, the information will be made available once approval has been granted.

Specifications of the ID Smart Card
The DHA notes that security of the personal information of individuals with an ID book is of the utmost importance and the change to the ID smart cards will offer better protection against ID fraud.

“The green ID book is not secure and can be easily compromised. The ID smart card is more secure, as it has biometric security features that will make it difficult to duplicate it. This will, in effect, improve the confidence of citizens in terms of identity,” says Pandor.

The ID smart card will comprise fingerprint biometric technology and contactless machine-readable scanners for verification and authentication. It will contain the same information as the current green ID book.

Pandor has alluded to additional inform-ation that will be added to the ID smart card, but has declined to comment on the specifics of this information: “Unfortunately, the information cannot be disclosed, except that it will contain the same information as the green ID book.”

Privacy and Protection
ID fraud is a problem that the DHA has been trying to stamp out for many years, and the ID smart card is expected to raise the levels of security.

“We have the utmost confidence that the card will prevent fraudulent behaviour and that is one of the reasons for implementing it. Materials that are used to assemble this card, biometrics security features and processes to acquire the card will make it very difficult to duplicate the smart cards.”

Pandor notes that there are two means of verification or authentication to protect the card and its users from ID fraudsters.

“Firstly, users will use fingerprint identifi-cation as a form of verification. Secondly, a pin code will also be made available to users.”

The Minister has given the assurance that the amount of information on the cards will “not cross the boundaries of privacy, as the amount of information contained in the ID smart card is the same biographic information contained in the current ID book and, therefore, cannot be regarded as an invasion of privacy”.

“The difference is that the ID smart card is a high-quality product that is more secure and has advanced data-protection mechanisms. The security that comes with the ID smart card and its inherent biometrics features, which are unique to every human being, make it difficult for fraudsters to abuse it,” she says.

The success of the ID smart card is yet to be seen in South Africa, but the Minister believes that this country will follow in the footsteps of countries such as Morocco, Germany and Switzerland, which have implemented ID smart card systems successfully.

“The DHA has done research and benchmarking in various countries where smart card technology has been implemented. We have adopted some useful ideas and technology that will help make this process easier to deal with. In addition, we have ensured that the national ID smart card is designed to conform to local conditions and that it is scalable to meet our current and future needs.”

However, De Freitas raises concern over the fact that the ID smart card transition will be taking place in a country that is of “First World standards”.

“This is not the case, as South Africa’s environment is different from the countries that are using the ID smart card system,” he says.

The countries that South Africa is using as bases for research and as examples of successful use of the card are countries that are socially and economically stronger than South Africa, he says, adding: “We need to look carefully at all the options that we have available to us and also keep in mind the state of the country and need not be overambitious with this project.”

However, he says the DA supports this project and the prospect of having to carry one document with all the necessary personal information is most welcome, as this eliminates the need to carry multiple documents at a time.

Transition Process
To ensure an easy transition, the DHA says citizens will be requested to go to Home Affairs offices to apply for a smart ID card. This will apply to new ID card applicants and holders of the current green ID book.
“Once the ID smart card has been implemented, there will be no option for users to have either the ID card or the green ID book. There will be one national ID card and that will be the ID smart card,” says Pandor.

A set amount of money has not yet been allocated to the project, says the Minister, explaining: “This information is still at imple- mentation phase and is not yet ready for public consumption.”

Pandor notes that the DHA envisages that the ID smart card will cost almost the same as a green ID book. It is envisaged that the first issue will be free, as is the case with first-time applications for a green ID book.

A ID smart card, with a contactless chip, based on international trends and standards, will meet the medium- to long-term vision of the DHA and the security needs of South Africa.

The DHA expects to roll out the ID smart cards in April 2013 and the process is estimated to take a maximum of three years.

The department was expected to have issued the first tender for the ID smart card project in November.

That there has been some movement on this project is a positive sign of the intention to make this system work for all those concerned, but the DA’s De Freitas says problems with tender irregularities and maladministration are a cause for concern for a project that will deal with huge amounts of private and personal information in the long term.

He notes that there have been “ongoing issues” with tender irregularities and maladministration of projects and that such issues have to be addressed to ensure that the project produces the best possible results.

“Can you imagine what the individuals will be tasked with to implement the cards? They will be dealing with billions of rands. In addition to that, outsourcing a company will be risky, owing to the vast amount of data and information of all individuals they will be in possession of and this could [lead to problems] if the information is not treated and used correctly.”

De Freitas insists that time is the most important factor in this case. “The DHA needs to consider allowing the project to run for some time before we look at adding all the personal information to the card.

“This will allow for more experience as this is a new way of doing things in this country. We can detect any problems in the early stages, find where we are going wrong and, ultimately, how we [can eliminate] these mistakes before we start including inform-ation such as medical history and driver licence information.”

If the inclusion of all personal information is undertaken at once, fixing any problems that might arise may cause a national crisis, as there is no prior experience the country can learn from.

“This is why it is very important that we start slow,”says De Freitas.

“There may even be a better system that can be developed if we give this process enough time to develop and mature and not rush into things that may end up being a failure and a waste of resources.”

Edited by: Creamer Media Reporter
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