South Africa launches new Automated Biometric Identification System

South Africa’s Ministry of Home Affairs has launched a new Automated Biometric Identification System (ABIS) that will serve as a single source for biometric authentication for citizens.

According to Minister of Home Affairs, Malusi Gigaba, the new identification system is an integral part of the department’s modernisation Programme and the ABIS project will help integrate all systems both inside and outside government. He also added that ABIS will drastically change the manner in which South Africans are identified and will form a back-bone of how the public and private sector will manage the authentication of their clients.

ABIS is an identification system which will also act as a security solution and will replace the outdated and manually operated Home Affairs National Identity System (HANIS). Features of the system include infant foot scans‚ facial recognition‚ iris scans, fingerprints among others.

“The grand plan seeks to integrate HANIS and the Automated Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS) into an automated system through ABIS with the capability to identify and verify people through fingerprints, facial recognition and iris technology,” the Department of Home Affairs said in a statement.

In January 2016, the ABIS project was initiated with an aim of replacing the Home Affairs National Identity System (HANIS), which is manually operated and out-dated. Gigaba noted that the need to roll out ABIS became imperative after more than 20 years old biometrics database stored with HANIS was lost.

Another reason Gigaba stated are series of complaints from members of the public regarding time spent at offices for documents such as smart ID cards, passports and certificates. He stated that one of the methods that may be considered to reduce the waiting time of the public at Home Affairs offices is to reintroduce opening offices on Saturdays.

To come up with the new technology, Gigaba noted that the department partnered with the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research to develop specifications for the new biometric database. He said the department worked with the State Information Technology Agency to procure a future-fit Automated Biometric Identification system and EOH was contracted to deliver the system after a thorough procurement process.

Benefits of Automated Biometric Identification system:

  • Turnaround times for ID and passport applications faster;
  • Reduce cases of duplicate identities;
  • Banks will be able to verify clients’ identities more quickly;
  • Tourism will benefit due to quicker response and processing times at ports of entry;
  • The police will be able to search for suspects by matching latent prints against records on ABIS;
  • Improved border control will create a competitive economic environment to attract skills‚ enable growth‚ increase foreign direct investment‚ create jobs and fight poverty.

The department’s 2018/19 annual performance plan expects the AFIS data migration to the ABIS system to be completed within the 2018/19 financial year. Meanwhile, the system’s iris and palm print recognition capabilities are scheduled to come online by 2019/20.