Home Affairs launches new biometric system as it pursues lofty ideals

16th May 2018 By: Schalk Burger - Creamer Media Senior Contributing Editor

Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba on Wednesday launched an Automated Biometric Identification System (ABIS), in Cape Town, which will identify and verify citizens using fingerprint, facial recognition and iris biometrics.

“ABIS is a fundamental baseline for the broader National Identification System that will consolidate South African and foreign nationals' data into a single base. The long-term goal was to build a single, integrated, digital platform for the department and the Republic as a whole,” he said.

With the new system, the Department of Home Affairs (DHA) will address the specific requirements of sister departments in the cluster and those of other organs of State. The ABIS project will be rolled out in phases over a five-year period, he said.

Implementation will entail migration of the manually operated and outdated Home Affairs National Identity System (HANIS) data (fingerprints and facial recognition) to the new ABIS, with improved functionality, installation and configuration of ABIS infrastructure (hardware), and building of system functionalities.

“ABIS is a modern information technology system based on commodity hardware. It was designed to be run as a critical service without interruptions. It promises many possibilities in identity management,” the DHA said in a statement on Wednesday.

The system will integrate with other relevant systems inside and outside the DHA to allow for a holistic view of the status of clients. It will serve as a single source for biometric authentication of citizens and non-citizens across State institutions and private sector entities.

“For the police, the DHA must fulfil requirements relating to the fingerprint search functionality. It should provide additional biometric modalities, such as iris scan, palm print and infant footprint, over and above what HANIS currently provides. The South African Police Service will be able to search for suspects by matching latent prints against records on ABIS.”

The ABIS system aims to reduce the turnaround times for those applying for identity documents or passports, reduce cases of duplicate identities and provide a secure solution to support the government’s drive to modernise all departments to improve service delivery efficiency, the DHA said.

“Banks will be able to verify client identity faster and tourism will benefit owing to shorter response times at ports of entry to capture or verify a traveller’s identity (which was introduced at the OR Tambo International Airport for non-citizens in 2016),” Gigaba said.

ABIS will also improve border control, which “should create a competitive economic environment to attract critical skills, enable growth, increase foreign direct investment, create jobs and fight poverty,” the DHA said.

“This integrated multimodal system is scalable, can be expanded to accommodate future capabilities and is protected through authentication and security protocols. This approach of ensuring our technology is future-ready builds on the development of the smart identity card, which has been issued to ten-million citizens.”

“As part of ABIS awareness, officials will be exposed to new and modern ways of working. At project completion, we would have qualitatively transformed the DHA into a cornerstone of e-government, and an enabler of citizen empowerment, economic development, national security and an efficient state,” the DHA enthused.

This development will go some way to ensure that citizens thrive in the Fourth Industrial Revolution, as it provides relatively low-cost digital government services, trusted documents, enhances security and reduces crime, as well as improves investment prospects and prosperity, the DHA stated.