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The New South African ID - From ‘Dumb Pass’ to Smart Card
 
After many years of using a green identity book with limited security features that permitted identity theft  and fraud, South Africa is finally upgrading to what it calls a ‘smart ID card’, on a par with identity systems in Europe, Asia and America. The new card was launched  on 18 July – the 95th birthday of Nelson Mandela, with Mandela himself being one of the first to receive his smart ID card. The small, credit card- sized piece of polycarbonate carries a lot of responsibility on its shoulders: not only is it regarded as an example of sophisticated and secure technology that will raise the level of identity management in South Africa, but also as a precursor to creating a paperless government … and a restorer of dignity and common citizenship.

 

It used to be called the ‘book of life’: the compulsory green identity book that looks like a passport - but without the security features to go with it - that all South Africans over 16 use as proof of identity every time they want to sign a contract or interact with government agencies. In fact, the little book is so ingrained into daily life that most South Africans know their 13-digit ID number by heart; at one stage the book even held driving and firearm licences.
 
During the apartheid era, however, this book was only issued to non-black South Africans. Black South Africans were required to carry a passbook called a 'dompas' - literally ‘dumb pass’- which allowed them to live and work in specified areas of the country. Similar to a passport, the dompas contained the individual’s fingerprints, photograph, employment details, race classification, and the particular area they were allowed to be in. Forgetting to carry a dompas resulted in arrest and expulsion out of ‘white’ South Africa into a ‘homeland’, or reserve. Each year, over 125,000 blacks were arrested for technicalities regarding a dompas, effectively making it the most hated symbol of the apartheid era.
 
These discriminatory regulations fueled growing discontent from the black population; in 1956, twenty thousands of women marched to the Union Buildings in Pretoria, the seat of the apartheid government to protest against the hated passbooks, , and the African National Congress instigated the Defiance Campaign to oppose the laws, which climaxed in the 1960 Sharpeville Massacre.
 
In 1986, under international pressure, the South African government lifted the requirement to carry passbooks and in 1994, the new democracy began a process to restore the dignity of black South Africans by forging a common identity. This included issuing the green identity book - which by that time sported a barcode - to all citizens, irrespective of race.
 
 
In 2000, the Department of Home Affairs made more security upgrades to the book, which included adding the country’s new coat of arms, and replacing the glued-in photograph with a digital one.
 
Now, in 2013, the transition from the green, paper-based book to a high-tech smart card is lauded as a ‘mark of the distance travelled since the pass laws were abolished’. Every citizen must have an ID, it’s not wrong to have an ID,’ said Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe, after receiving his own card, adding, ‘but of course it was wrong to carry a dompas’.
 
President Jacob Zuma received his card from Home Affairs Minister Naledi Pandor, and then went on to name the four machines printing the cards after the four women who led the 1956 protest: Sophie de Bruyn, Rahima Moosa, Helen Joseph, and Lilian Ngoyi. ‘Carrying a pass then was an insult and an affront to the dignity of our people,’ he said. 'Not any more'.

 

 
Phased Roll-Out
The first smart ID cards will be issued to the ‘Mandela Generation’ before the general public. ‘We are prioritising those veterans in their 80s and 90s, whom we wish to honour while they are with us in person,’ said Pandor. The full roll-out begins  in October to first-time applicants, and those who need their ID reissuing.. People will be invited to Home Affairs in stages, according to birth date, in order to avoid a rush. The department has prepared 27 regional offices throughout the country to issue the new card, which will increase to over 140 in 2014, in order to issue 38 million cards over several years.
Minister Pandor said that it will take up to eight years for all South Africans to receive them, which means that the cards will coexist with the old books, until it is phased out. Whereas the turnaround time on the green book was around 54 days after application, the smart card process will only take less than 14 days.
 
World-Class Suppliers
‘Through a rigorous tender process, the Government Printing Works (GPW) - the self-funded state printer operating within the parameters of Home Affairs - identified two world-class suppliers, each with extensive experience in their field,’ said Pandor
The leading identity card manufacturer, Gemalto - headquartered in Amsterdam - won the €16m ($21m) tender to supply its Sealys eID proximity blank  preprinted polycarbonate cards, embedded with contactless  microchip.
A South African company, Altech Card Solutions won the R40m ($3.9m) tender to supply the GPW with four Datacard® MX series card personalisation machines and automated mailing systems, manufactured by DataCard Group in the US. Each machine can print 1,000 cards an hour.
 
Physical and Logical Security
The physical security on the card begins with the choice of polycarbonate a one piece substrate, as opposed to (cards with) multiple layers that can be delaminated. The background design is composed of fine lines printed as a rainbow image. The personal details and the person’s image are laser-engraved, and extremely difficult to alter. Optical security consists of an optical variable device (OVD) and colour-shifting motif, and semi-covert security is provided by a coat of arms which fluoresces in UV light and is not visible in daylight. The text ‘ID’ is written in Braille marks. There is a second photograph on the back of the card, together with the text ‘RSA’ printed on top of a security number. The back also carries two bar codes: a 1D line code with the bearer’s identity number (for voting purposes) and a 2D PDF 417 code with the personal details. Logical security is provided by the 80-kilobyte microchip, which carries the bearer’s name, photo and fingerprints. (People who cannot provide a fingerprint due to physical disability will be issued with a pin code.)
 
A public key infrastructure has been set up by a South African company Lawtrust within Home Affairs/GPW’s secure network to encrypt this data on the chip, using 2,048-bit cryptography - which, as far as Gemalto’s Communication Director, Eric Billiaert is aware, has never been breached. ‘The weakest link is the process of getting the card (from Home Affairs). The weakest links are always the human links,’ says Billiaert. According to Gemalto’s Marketing Director, Pierre-Luc Arnaud, the cards are compliant with the ISO/EIC 14443 contactless standard - the same standard used for Europay, MasterCard, and Visa contactless banking cards or electronic passports. He says the cards are configured to operate in very close proximity to a reader (less than 2–4 inches, 5 to 10cms), and that any reader compatible with the ISO standard can be used. He added that since the data on the card is protected with strong encryption and public key infrastructure ‘only the rightful authorities can have access to the information stored on the card’.‘Thanks to its microprocessor and embedded software, the eID card is therefore able to serve three distinct functions: identification, authentication and signature, using cryptography,’ Arnaud said.
 
Mobile Scanners
Although the new cards will initially provide access to government services, helping to combat widespread problems with fraudulent documents, Minister Pandor advised that ‘one of the phases for us to work through is that of ensuring that businesses, banks, the insurance industry and other partners have the necessary scanners to verify smart ID cards. 'This means that the private sector itself will benefit from knowing exactly who they are transacting with’. Home Affairs Chief Information Officer, Sello Mmakau, pointed out that although the department would not provide or fund the handheld scanners - which are readily available in the market - it would provide standard specifications for their procurement. The scanner reads the barcode on the card and then matches the biometric information obtained therefrom with a scanned fingerprint of the cardholder.  
 
South African analysts say that streamlining ID checks will ultimately reduce the huge amount of duplication with systems such as RICA (the process of producing ID to buy a mobile phone) and FICA (for financial services), and bring down the levels of bureaucracy experienced with the current manual paper-based system. The issues of corruption through officials with access to the population register, however, remains.
 
National Population Register
Minister Pandor said that the new smart ID card ‘will be a major step towards creating a modern, reliable population register’. The government is cleaning up the existing register by cancelling and invalidating all duplicate identity numbers by 31 December this year.
Currently, 121,000 South Africans have more than one identity document or are sharing a number with someone else, says Home Affairs officials. The main cause of this was the manner in which new green ID books were issued after 1994 -with the advent of democracy and the amalgamation of the various home affairs departments which served different nationalities, some information was not captured on the national population register, leading the department to issue new IDs.
 
Extension to E-Payments?
Unlike countries such as Nigeria, which has included an electronic wallet and payment facilities in its national ID card, the South African system won’t be used to substitute bank cards. However, it can be used by banks as a more secure method of identification, Billiaert says. ‘Some countries have added an e-purse, but that’s a decision that has to be made by Home Affairs’.
 
In Time for 2014 Election
Next year, South Africa will celebrate 20 years of freedom and democracy and all South Africans will take part in the country's fifth democratic election. By then, thousands of people are likely to have been issued with the new ID card, and they will be able to use it to vote. ‘During the design phase of the ID smart card we consulted with key stakeholders, including the Independent Electoral Commission of South Africa (IEC), during which they provided the requirements of the technology they are currently using and the future technology they are planning to use,’ said Mmakau. Thus the decision to put the two barcodes on the card. Other applications in access to government services are being considered, such as the use of the smart ID card to permit secure encrypted access to electronic health records held on a cloud server at the National Department of Health.
 
President Zuma urged South Africans without identity documents to apply for their ID cards so that all eligible citizens will be in a position to vote. Such is his enthusiasm for the programme that he declared, ‘by the time you vote next year, you must be a smart South African’.
 
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