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Smart card to cut ID theft

We will be saving millions and millions of trees because we will not be using any paper, says home affairs minister Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma of the smart ID card.

There is no way for the new smart ID card to be duplicated or forged, according to the Department of Home Affairs (DHA).

Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, at a press briefing last week, said the card is “very secure” with a number of levels of security. She explained that the card will have an imprint of the owner's fingerprint, which will not be visible, but can be read with a fingerprint reader.

There is a microchip in the card that holds information so when the card is authenticated, the information on the card will be displayed. “There is a barcode and this will also have information. And then there is another level that will have to be read with expert machines if the matter has to go to court or something. This will require specialised infrastructure. Obviously, I cannot tell you everything that this card has.”

Durable card

The minister said if someone wants to authenticate the smart card, they will require a card reader, which ranges in pricing from about R30.

These can be used by anyone who needs to authenticate identity, like the banks, stores with credit facilities, and anyone who conducts financial and legal transactions. “These machines will be able to read the card and, together with the fingerprint of the holder, will be able authenticate the identity of the holder.”

To authenticate the card, the barcode is scanned as it has biometric security features. The card does not have to be swiped, as it has a contactless chip, making it more durable, says the department.

Face off

Currently, photos in the green ID book can be removed and replaced for the purposes of fraudulent activities, but with the new card the picture is permanent and cannot be replaced.

“What is important is what you cannot see, because people who are trying to forge the card will put on what they can see. What is important is to read what cannot be seen – in the chip, the barcode and what is hidden,” said Dlamini-Zuma.

She added that the problem of rogue officials, who sell information, within the department will not be a problem, because of the hidden features, which even some officials are not aware of. “So there is no one rogue official who can do everything, so it is not possible. There are different layers – the last one is probably introduced by the last person in the printing works, so there is no way you can duplicate this card.”

The minister also said trying to forge the card will be a nightmare for anyone who wants to do it, because it is impossible and so the smart card will help cut down on ID theft.

Speedy accuracy

The project is in the pilot phase and the department wants to ensure a seamless process, before rolling out to citizens.

“We also need to equip our frontline offices, because when we begin issuing these cards to the public, we do not want to capture this information on paper. We want to begin capturing this information online. So our frontline offices must be ready to capture this information online. We will be happy with this because it will mean accuracy and speed,” said the minister.

Earlier this month, the department said the pilot will soon see an extension of the card to a sample size of 2 000. The minister added that this is likely to happen in the next six months.

“The idea was that in the first 18 months or so we will begin the roll out of this to the public. We will have a system – either alphabetically or by date of birth – but there will be a clear process of how we replace the IDs. We will hope to finish this within two years or so and then everyone will have a card.”

Labour cut

The DHA has the machines for the pilot transition, but not yet for the broader rollout. It was given R5 million for the pilot. There is no figure as yet for the cost of the final project.

The production of the card is more sophisticated, but it requires fewer people and less paper. However, it requires more skilled officials so at the moment the cost of producing the two are about the same.

“There is a lot of manual labour in compiling the [green ID] book. It begins with the front office... to all the manual processes including pasting the photos. We will be saving millions and millions of trees, because we will not be using any paper so it will be an environmentally friendly product,” said the minister.

Medical info

By the next elections, there will be a mixture of smart cards and ID books, but in future there will not be a stamp on the card. “It will be a swipe or something like this, but your finger will help. The IEC is aware that this is the process we are working towards and they will have to work on this.”

Dlamini-Zuma also said discussions are being held with other departments to determine what information will be held on the card. “There are various ways in which we can do this – you can feed this information into the chip in the card or you can create a club or something where other people are able to access this information. So, if a doctor wants to know what is happening to a patient, instead of putting in information all the time, he can access the information on the card to see what is happening.”

The smart ID card will replace the traditional green ID books for South African citizens. The current green ID book is not sufficient to match new technologies and transactions under the IT modernisation project.

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