Combating Duplication of Identity: DRP to introduce eNICs

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By 2017-07-17

By Shaahidah Riza

Mohamed Shafeeq's application to obtain a credit card was rejected by the bank. The bank informed him that he had a debt of Rs 500,000. Shafeeq, who never took a loan amounting to such an enormous sum decided to contact the Credit Information Bureau of Sri Lanka (CRIB). When CRIB analysed his credit history, they informed him that another individual also shared his National Identity Card (NIC) number and that he had obtained a loan of Rs 500,000.

Speaking to Ceylon Today, an official from CRIB noted that cases pertaining to issuance of duplicate NIC numbers were not uncommon. He added that CRIB directs them to the Department of Registration of Persons (DRP) to obtain a signed affidavit that would enable the affected party to engage in transactions. "However, the concern many people have is whether the affidavit would be valid or not. At the same time, they fear that any transaction or document that bears the NIC number, prior to discovering that their NIC has been duplicated would now be invalidated," he said. He went on to note that these cases were not unique to CRIB alone and that other government departments such as the Department of Motor Traffic and Department of Immigration and Emigration encounter the same problem. "Many people are in the dark and do not know whether their NIC has been duplicated or not. NICs were issued manually; it became digitalised a few years ago, so only when they apply for a credit card, passport, or driving license, would they discover that their NIC has been duplicated. However, if such an individual desperately needs a credit history, we will need relevant details to isolate his/her credit details from the other's in order to obtain an accurate document," he said.

According to the Commissioner General of the DRP, Viyani Gunathilaka, cases pertaining to issuance of duplicate NIC numbers is presently far less than it was a few years ago. He went on to note that in such situations, the DRP would cancel the duplicated numbers and issue unique numbers to each affected individual. "We used to issue NICs manually, so did other departments and organisations such as banks. Now, we use digitalised systems. When you issue manually, there are chances that human error can take place. Essentially, the error is that we have issued one number to two people, so we inform both individuals and issue new numbers," he said. He went on to note that the DRP would also issue a letter indicating that the individuals who were previously issued duplicate NICs, have now been issued new numbers. This letter would also mention the previous NIC numbers. "In fact, when we issue the new NIC card, the previous NIC number will also be mentioned." Viyani Gunathilaka added that the cases regarding issuance of duplicate NICs will not be an issue in the future as the government proposal to introduce electronic National Identity Cards (eNICs) is presently being worked on.

Proposed Plan to introduce eNICs

The eNICs will be issued in two stages. The first would be to replace the current NICs with new cards. "We started issuing the present NICs in 1972. Although there were slight changes over the years, the format didn't change. The machines that we use to print these cards and to laminate are also old. We have already designed, procured, and produced the new card. I saw the stock.

We already received a sample. It has been sent to an independent lab which is in France. The cards are produced in Bulgaria.

These cards will be examined to determine whether they meet the specification. If these pass that test, we will replace the current NIC card with the new card. We hope to replace the card within two months."

"The second stage is that we have been assigned a task to create a National Persons' Registry (NPR), which will perform the functions of a National Central Database. This would require collecting the data from all the citizens once more. Those above 15 years will be given an application to be filled out by the DRP which will qualify them to use the eNICs. The data that would be collected would include a citizen's bio data and biometrics as well. However, recently when the proposal for the new eNICs were introduced, many had concerns pertaining to individual privacy breaches. There were also claims that the eNICs will be linked to the citizen's bank accounts, allowing the state to access bank details. On the other hand, many also feared that past convictions or offences would also be included in the central database which can be accessed through the NIC number." Viyani Gunathilaka dispelled these claims and noted, "None of these are true. We amended the law, which is why the process took more than 4 years. The Registration of Persons Act was also amended. We created the regulations which will be debated in parliament next week. We have obtained all the necessary documents. We have obtained the legal authority and the responsibility to utilise it in a safe manner. By law, the citizen is required to produce his/her NIC when a state department requests for it, and at the same time, the responsibility lies with the relevant department to maintain the privacy and secrecy of the information they obtain from the citizens." He further added that the matter pertaining to breach of privacy was recently taken up in parliament and that a gazette was passed indicating that only the fingerprints and the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) standard photograph would be required. "We will use these to create a National Persons Registry (NPR), based on that we will have to approach about 16 million people and recapture details to produce the eNICs. Subsequently, based on the NPR, we will announce that every Sri Lankan citizen must acquire the new eNICs," he said. He went on to note that to recapture all citizens' data, a timeframe of one and a half years would be needed. The preliminary steps to introduce eNICs are already being taken, and that by the end of 2018 or the beginning of 2019 the data will be recollected. He went on to note that the DRP was making various improvements to make the lives of citizens easier.

Minimum Age

Until last year, the minimum age to be eligible for an NIC was 16 years, but it had now been reduced to 15 years, he said."Children who are in grade 11 are generally 16 years old, however, if a child turns 16 in October, he/she will be in a panic to get his/her NIC in time for the Ordinary Level Examination. To avoid this inconvenience, we have decided to issue NICs when children turn 15, so that they are able to obtain their NICs in grade 10. We have requested all school principals to produce NIC applications for their students from January this year. We will issue the NICs by the end of September," he said. However, with regard to the issue pertaining to duplicate issuance of NICs, this issue will soon be resolved as the necessary documentation is in place and the government will soon introduce eNICs. Viyani Gunathilaka noted, "When the eNICs are in place, there will not be any duplication of numbers as it will be issued through a digital process and other identity theft related crimes such as producing fake ballot papers will also be contained." 

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