South Africa’s draft biometrics recording policy raises privacy concern

South Africa’s Department of Home Affairs had released  a draft policy for identity management to seek public comments on 22 December 2020. The draft policy aims to capture biometrics data of every child born in South Africa and link this data to parents’ identity numbers. The government hopes that the new policy will prevent corrupt government officials from selling birth certificates to foreigners to illegally obtain South African citizenship and protect children who otherwise may go undocumented. The draft policy also seeks to capture more biometric data, such as photos of eyes, hands, feet, and ears of citizens who apply for a digital ID number. Currently South Africans apply for it at the age of 16. 

The new registration rule raises a privacy concern. South Africa passed the Protection of Personal Information Act in 2013, however, key elements have yet to be enacted. South Africa has also been repeatedly attacked by cybercriminals. Executive Chairman of ID4Africa Joseph Atick said his organisation that promotes digital identification across Africa recommends the development of data protection and privacy laws before embracing digital identities, considering the threat to privacy. Murray Hunter, a South African digital rights activist, is skeptical that biometrics can solve identity management issues. He asked if the solution to identity theft is not to root out corrupt officials but to create a massive biometrics database of all newborns.