JOHANNESBURG (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Plans to photograph and fingerprint every baby born in South Africa for a digital register could lead to data leaks and identity theft without robust safeguards, rights experts said on Thursday.
The Department of Home Affairs’ new draft policy aims to capture detailed biometrics – unique physical traits – of every child born in South Africa and link this data to parents’ identity numbers, which are printed on all ID documents.
The government hopes the new registration system will prevent corrupt officials selling birth certificates to foreigners to illegally secure South African citizenship and protect children who otherwise risk going undocumented.
About one in 10 of some 1 million babies born in South Africa each year are not registered at birth, government data shows. Without birth certificates, they risk exclusion from school and health care and denial of citizenship.
Under the proposed policy, all children – including those whose parents are migrants or stateless, meaning no country recognises them as citizens – will receive a digital number, although this does not translate to automatic citizenship.
“Governments need to have digital registers of their population to deliver services,” said Joseph Atick, executive chairman of ID4Africa, a charity that promotes digital identification – or online identity records – across Africa.
“(But) the threat to privacy is real. That is why we promote the development of data protection and privacy laws and frameworks before embracing digital identity,” Atick told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in emailed comments.