South African rights group demands end to biometric cards
22 August 2017 13:29 GMT

A human rights group in South Africa says biometric cards are a way to "control the people".

Right2Know Gauteng (R2K Gauteng)this week marched to the Department of Home Affairs' head office in Pretoria to challenge its smart ID system.

"Home affairs promised the smart ID will keep us safer from identity theft and crimes such as social grants fraud, because it is linked to your fingerprint. We say this is wrong," said R2K in a statement.

Since 2013, the Department of Home Affairs has been calling on South Africans to sign up for the new smart ID cards to replace the old green ID book. Last year, the department introduced its eHomeAffairs portal, which allowed Gauteng and Western Cape citizens to apply for their smart IDs online and at certain bank branches, with plans to roll out the service to other parts of SA.

But R2K has issues with what the government is doing with citizens' private biometric information obtained when people apply for smart IDs, claiming that "biometric information is about controlling people".

"Many governments are keeping big databases of the private, biometric information of millions of ordinary people. This includes storing the fingerprints, faces and irises (photo of your eye). These databases are collected for one purpose (such as receiving social services), but then used for other purposes (policing, border control, debt collection).

"The database is also used by the security agencies as a major form of surveillance and tracking ordinary people, even those who have not committed a crime. Many democratic countries have chosen not to implement a biometric system for this reason," R2K says.

R2K also has issues with how secure the biometric information is once it is obtained by home affairs and the involvement of private companies in the system having access to South Africans' personal information. It also believes no fees should be charged for poor people who need ID documents.