Home Affairs smart card pilot on track

By Leon Engelbrecht, ITWeb senior writer
Johannesburg, 07 Apr 2008

Home Affairs director-general Mavuso Msimang has told business leaders in Johannesburg the department's long talked-about smart identity card will be tested by year-end, in line with a promise made in Parliament, on 14 February.

Msimang briefed Business Unity SA on Friday. He told the assembled executives 25 ICT companies had answered a request for information for the project that will see the green identity booklet now used by South Africans replaced with a credit-style card with an embedded chip.

He added the process was still open to other companies, but - in apparent contradiction - underlined that the proposals made were being evaluated and that the department would "finalise everything by the end of June".

Home Affairs spokesperson Cleo Mosana this morning declined to elaborate on the process, or name the companies that have expressed interest in the multimillion-rand project.

The Saturday Star reported the pilot, due to start in December, would involve "a sample of pensioners". It added that Msimang did not specify the duration of the test. Depending on the outcome of the trial, a more comprehensive roll-out could follow during the course of next year.

The paper added that, although Msimang admitted the new smart IDs would not be "beyond vulnerability", he underscored they would be far less of a security risk than the current paper booklet.

The current bar-coded green ID book was introduced in 1986 when the then-National Party government did away with "Grand Apartheid", which included strict control on the movement of black people using the "Dompas" document.

The booklet was meant to have been replaced at the turn of the millennium as part of the implementation of the billion-rand Home Affairs National Identification System (Hanis). This was meant to have two legs: the smart card to provide face value identification authentication and the Automated Fingerprint Identification System (Afis), a fingerprint and photograph repository that validated the face-value document.

But Msimang told Members of Parliament, in February, that resistance within the department at the time sank the smart card implementation. The Afis leg went ahead and Hanis is now fully operational, loaded with the fingerprints and photographs of about 50 million people. These include all South Africans with IDs and passports, as well as visitors with visas, foreigners with work permits and deported illegal immigrants.

The Saturday Star also noted Home Affairs was "investigating how countries such as China had rolled out the system in three years".

It added that Msimang said the "one major question to be answered, though, is how far the government is prepared to subsidise these cards, as their production cost is quite high".

Msimang, in February, told MPs all South Africans were entitled to an ID and anyone who has ever tried to find employment or access government or commercial services without an ID can attest to how fundamental the document is to everyday life.

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