After decades of promising it, the department of home affairs is finally moving ahead with its plans to replace South Africa’s green, bar-coded identity books with new-fangled ID cards. And the technology built into the new cards, supplied by international digital security specialist Gemalto, is pretty neat.
Home affairs minister Naledi Pandor announced last month that her department would begin replacing ID books with smart ID cards from July. This was after government awarded two contracts, one to Gemalto Southern Africa and the other to Altech Card Solutions, worth a combined R250m.
Altech won a R40m tender to supply the Government Printing Works with card personalisation machines and an automated mailing solution; Gemalto won a €16m (R210m) tender to supply pre-printed polycarbonate cards containing a contactless microprocessor.
Eric Billiaert, communication director for government programmes at Gemalto, says the polycarbonate cards and chip technology to be used in South Africa’s national ID cards have a range of security features to stop cloning and tampering.
“You can add a lot of security features on the card body to make it very difficult to alter or to forge or duplicate,” he explains. “Also, it’s not a layered card, but one piece of material, so you can’t delaminate it.”
When the cards are printed and personalised by Altech, details of card holders will be laser-engraved into them, not simply printed on the surface, making it “very difficult” to alter without attempted fraud being easily detectable.
The card’s chip or microprocessor, communication to and from which is secured using 2 048-bit cryptography, will store the bearer’s name, their photograph and their fingerprints. Billiaert says that as far as he is aware, the security system used 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.”
Home affairs and other government departments could use the information embedded in the chip to prove a citizen’s credentials. In Gabon, which also uses a Gemalto solution in its ID cards, citizens hand over their cards at clinics and hospitals, for example, their fingerprints are read, and a check is done to see if this biometric information matches the information on the cards.
Billiaert says this could also prove useful in combating fraudulent claims for social grants.
Unlike Nigeria, for example, which has included an electronic wallet and payment facilities in its national ID card, the South African system won’t be able to 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 the department of home affairs.”
Gemalto will supply 3m cards per year to South Africa and the whole process of replacing ID books is expected to take between seven and nine years. — (c) 2013 NewsCentral Media