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Identity theft in the Western Cape

Identity theft in the Western Cape

This is the fourth field diary entry from Tshepo, one of our Yoti Digital Identity Fellows. His year-long research project is looking at the digital identity landscape in South Africa, with a specific focus on the national smart ID identity programme from a human rights perspective.  ***** Identity theft is rising in South Africa, with fraudsters costing the economy more than R1 billion every year. While each province has its own story to tell in terms of statistics and impact, the problem is truly a national one. My research has continued in the Western Cape, the official COVID-19 epicentre of South Africa, as new challenges have affected this widely known city – the one with blue skies and an ocean view, overlooked by Table Mountain. The area has been hard hit by the pandemic that continues to spark fear and distress among the locals and the government. As of the 28th June 2020, the Western Cape had accounted for 59,315 confirmed cases out of around 132,000 cases nationally. The Western Cape insisted on re-opening its economy despite resistance from the national government, claiming that it has been their high levels of testing that has led to the high number of detected cases. This high level of testing has resulted in significant challenges across the city as health workers fanned out to businesses and people’s homes to carry out tests. Being able to identify who is, and who isn’t, a bona-fide health worker has turned out to  be a big challenge.  Increased fraud during covid Cape Town, previously known as the city that never sleeps, is eerily empty in the evenings due to lockdown restrictions. But one thing is for sure – fraudsters operate with no lockdown restrictions. Many have taken advantage of the lull to reinforce their positions within the city, something which has been easier than normal given the cities primary focus on flattening the curve of the coronavirus. Identity theft Unlike other provinces, the Western Cape has seen positive adoption of the Smart ID Card. That said, even prior to COVID-19 there were many reported cases of ID theft and many organisations have started taking an interest in the prevalence of identity theft and what it means for its victims. Many people go about their daily lives unaware that they were victims of fraud until they see the negative knock effect of their credit score. Some have indicated that they usually only find out they have become victims of identity theft when checking their credit report while applying for a home loan or car finance. Passport fraud The province has also faced challenges offering relief to undocumented refugees and providing shelter for homeless people. Fraudsters regularly take advantage by selling applicants fake IDs and passports. This takes place in the wake of a pandemic where everyone will do anything to get access to government handouts. The increased rate of passport forgery has been alarming. Eight foreign nationals and a South African home affairs department official have recently been arrested in connection with alleged corruption related to passports.   Financial fraud Citizens in the province have also indicated they’ve been noticing an increase in the number of fraudulent transactions in their accounts, a type of fraud that is becoming a trend in South Africa as a direct result of high identity theft. Consumers who discover fraudulent transactions on their bank accounts face a barrage of red tape to sort out the problem, and a threat of blacklisting if they try to stop the payment. There has also been a rise in the number of people who have been blacklisted over unpaid accounts they’ve never opened or unpaid invoices from reputable companies that they have never engaged with. With companies now willing to allow people to agree contracts or open accounts online instead of over the phone or in person, fraudsters have had a field day opening accounts on behalf of their victims using their information, and purchasing goods.  Unemployment fraud The province also has an unemployment rate of 20.4%, with many businesses closing and people being laid off. Fraudsters have also been able to take advantage here, pretending to represent companies or HR departments with open positions and enticing their victims to submit applications using personal and other sensitive information. This information is then used to commit different kinds of financial or identity fraud.  Transport Since the Western Cape is a coastal province with a major port, fraud usually takes place in trade-related services where goods are obtained illegally before being transported up-country. To put it simply, fake identities are used to load or unload goods at the hub and ports. Department of Transport employees have recently been arrested for allegedly illegally importing vehicles which were fraudulently registered, and for issuing fraudulent police clearances in the Western Cape. Biometric authentication as a solution? Another problem arises when people throw personal documents away without first shredding them. Fraudsters now target frequently-used dustbins in search of personal documentation they can use to impersonate a victim. Fraudsters are even impersonating officials by claiming to be from the fraud department alerting the client of a possible fraud attempt, effectively luring the victim to hand over personal details to access their funds. As a result, local companies are beginning to place their hopes on biometric authentication solutions, aimed at validating and verifying someone’s data using their identity registered on the Department of Home Affairs database. Locals have also indicated they sometimes make use of services from the Southern African Fraud Prevention Service (SAFPS), a non-profit organisation which is leading the fight against fraud and financial crime. They have a database with all the banks and can signal alerts during a scam. Locals are continually advised to use a secure place to store and protect their identities, with the Government of Cape Town now taking it upon themselves to educate the public in how to avoid identity theft. 

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Updates from the field – Tshepo’s diary entry April 2020

Updates from the field – Tshepo’s diary entry April 2020

This is the third field diary entry from Tshepo, one of our Yoti Digital Identity Fellows. His year-long research project is looking at the digital identity landscape in South Africa, with a specific focus on the national smart ID identity programme from a human rights perspective. To follow his whole research project, you can find an archive of his monthly field diary entries here. ***** Over the past couple of months, I’ve had the opportunity to collect data from several people in Limpopo province, mostly in the Mopani region, including schools, public departments, NGOs and community members. The participants have all had one thing in common – access to state and private services is predominantly limited to ones’ ability to acquire and disclose an ID to relevant parties.   The role of ID in education I visited rural schools in the Sekgosese area, under the Mopani region in Limpopo. My main objective was to understand what ID fraud means to the learners and to gauge their views and personal experiences. I was particularly interested in issues ranging from digital fraud and the prospects of having a digital ID, and other human rights violations that comes with a lack or loss of an ID. Interestingly, in public schools, learners are encouraged to get their IDs before they reach Grade 11, as it has become mandatory for learners to sit for their exams with an ID document. Most principals in the schools have also noted that the national green ID book poses several challenges for the schools, as some learners tamper with the ID image to commit fraud during exam season. For example, it is not uncommon for one student to sit an exam on behalf of another learner who may be struggling with the subject – for a fee. The government has been pushing for post-2013 high school learners to have a Smart ID card only, and my research has found that most school learners possess one, much to the relief of the schools. To combat fraud these Smart ID cards need to be presented prior to sitting an exam. Yet, despite efforts to have learners present their IDs before exams commence, attempts to access exam papers ahead of exam sittings remain a problem, showing that fraud is a very dynamic issue that requires a holistic approach. The data also shows an increase in reports of loss of IDs during exam seasons, and this raises questions as to whether schools use other forms of identification, instead of an official ID. ID replacement is usually expensive for learners, especially those living in poverty in rural areas, so many have been debating the potential of a digital Smart ID card scanned to their smartphone to prove to their schools during an exam. Interestingly, others saw this as an obstacle due to schools reluctance on learners using smartphones on school premises. That said, I also engaged with the local home affairs office who have noticed an increase in the number of people within communities who now want to shift to a Smart ID card – especially young adults. Deployments have already been carried out in several schools, rural centres and community halls to facilitate and make the process easier.   Accessing social help Unlike many urban areas, rural areas (even in the post-apartheid era) still face quite different issues, predominately for elderly people. Many older people tend to be unsure of their date of birth, with one older participant telling me that all her life she rarely celebrates her birthday because she isn’t sure when it is. An accurate, confirmed date of birth is a key component of any digital identity. I have also noticed that many rural communities predominantly rely on social grants given the socio-geographic challenges they face, and the lack of employment opportunities. In other cases, from a human rights perspective, some elders are denied the right to social grants due to an incorrect birth date previously recorded on their ID. Reasons for this can be down to everything from challenges of literacy, to simple errors from the old home affairs departments. While my research indicates that identity challenges (such as fraud) are less likely in rural areas, identity challenges have existed in another form – for example, where a wrong identity is given to an individual who then ends up bearing the consequences for the rest of their lives. The ways NGOs deliver services to communities is also changing as ID increasingly becomes a requirement before receiving aid. This, of course, can end up excluding those with no form of identification, mostly foreign nationals, refugees, displaced people or simply those who have lost their IDs. Presenting ID to local clinics before treatment is now mandatory. Subsidised government services such as provision of electricity, food and other basic needs also require people to be able to prove who they are. These are just a few of the issues that drive people to commit fraud by faking their identities.   Missed opportunities I also discovered that some children have been given false identities intentionally by their parents in order for them to receive specific social grants and benefits reserved by the state for more disadvantaged groups. Having a basic ID also makes it possible to obtain a driving licence and, coupled with completion of a matric certificate, gives the holder a better chance of gaining from some of the primary employment opportunities. A number of young people I spoke to have missed out on several opportunities because they lost some of these documents.   Green ID book vs Smart ID card I have also learnt that, despite the introduction of the Smart ID card and the push for everyone to upgrade to one, South Africa has yet to scrap the older green ID book completely. As a result it is possible to use both IDs interchangeably.  In many rural areas, most older people prefer using their green ID book whereas younger people are more comfortable using their Smart ID card. Increasing numbers of young people will only ever know the digital version of their identity given their age.   Identity theft Despite efforts to switch to a Smart ID card, identity theft is a growing problem in South Africa. Cases are reported every week of criminals selling fake state IDs, licences, passports and other forms of identification. Furthermore, the number of people who simply ignore the fact that they have lost an ID and never report it to the relevant authorities simply adds to the problem. The lack of urgency in reporting ID theft is probably not helped by the lack of easily available information on the dangers, and impact, of having your identity stolen. Education is a key part of the equation here, an area where considerably more time, effort and resources are required if we are to begin to combat ID fraud in South Africa.   If you have a question for Tshepo or are interested in his research, you can reach him here.

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Updates from the field – Subhashish's diary entry January 2020

Updates from the field – Subhashish's diary entry January 2020

This is the second field diary entry from Subhashish, one of our Digital Identity Fellows. His year-long research project is focused on the challenges and opportunities within marginalised groups most affected by Aadhaar, India’s national digital ID system. *** India’s ambitious biometric-based identity — Unique Identity (UID) — has been the focus of the State of Aadhaar report recently published by Dalberg Global Development Advisors, a global consulting firm. The study — made possible with funding from Omidyar Network — includes a sample size of 167,000 Indian residents and sheds some light on many facets of Aadhaar. While the report has provided Aadhaar’s creators with a chest-thumping moment, I have attempted to explore other perspectives shared with me — beyond the statistics — by a few of the most marginalized communities in the country, and other subject matter experts. UID is used to tag Indian citizens with a unique number called Aadhaar by centralizing a range of personal data (including biometric). Contrary to popular misconception that Aadhaar is yet another “card” that provides the Indian citizens a form of identity, it is merely a number. In this, my latest field diary entry, I talk about exclusions that are tied to Aadhaar’s design and implementation. After publishing the first field diary of my fellowship, I went on to interview 20 individuals in the Indian states of Odisha and Uttarakhand in four different locations. 5 (33%) of the interviewees were women and 2 of those women are illiterate, whereas the male interviewees were all literate. The interviewees represent a range of social and economic groups. I also interviewed some of the key stakeholders including human rights lawyers and activists, litigators, ethnographers, and academic and other researchers.     Aadhaar in its current form is being linked to several citizen beneficiary services. Linking services to a unique number so that service providers can authenticate a beneficiary has been one of my focus areas since the beginning of the project. In practice, authorities are mostly using fingerprint scanning-based identification and authentication. Services like state pension or rations (food, fuels and so on) — or even subsidized healthcare — are received by individuals who are generally marginalized by a range of different factors. These might include age, literacy, access to public information in one’s own language, retention of fingerprint due to illness or manual labor, or periodic update of biometrics to reflect any change of the same because of physical work. These are just some examples of factors driving exclusion during Aadhaar’s implementation. I am looking at a few of these factors in my research.   Unique, Ubiquitous and Universal One of the experts I met was Dr. Usha Ramanathan, an independent researcher and human rights lawyer, who was invited to provide inputs on Aadhaar’s early design in 2009. Nandan Nilekeni was a key person helping shape the Indian government-operated Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), the organization behind the development and implementation of Aadhaar. Nilekeni emphasised the three main pillars of Aadhaar — Unique, Ubiquitous and Universal. Dr. Ramanathan was early to realize that Aadhaar is not what it was designed for — she found out that the “Unique” part was not to provide a unique identity to every citizen by providing them with a unique number but a tool for the authorities for identification. Secondly, she also noticed that the “Ubiquitous” part of the design was to link the records of every single resident of India across multiple other databases using a unique number — Aadhaar. Criticizing such database-linking, Rahul Narayan, a lawyer in the Indian Supreme Court, told me that such a design has a striking and dangerous similarity to what anarchists like Stalin or Hitler did. Different departments like the police (law enforcement) and R.T.O. (Road Transfer Office) and private/public services (such as banking) are all being combined using Aadhaar. Dr. Ramanathan also looks at the “Universal” aspect of Aadhaar as an inherent design feature that makes every person feel compelled to enrol for Aadhaar, even though enrollment is marketed as voluntary. She went on to point out that, “It was clear from the beginning that the people who would suffer the most are the poor. As an untested technology that is being imposed on people, the whole project was shot from the shoulders of the poor without knowing if such an ID would work or not. Aadhaar is not a card but a number attached to a biometric. If the biometric doesn’t work, the number doesn’t work.”   Subhashish recording a traditional Jurai Sora music performance by Srinivas Gamango in Gajapati district, Odisha, India. Picture by Ranjan Raika   Access to information I interviewed two indigenous communities — the Jurai Soras and the Lanjia Soras —both related to each other ethnically and socio-culturally, and both marginalized for similar reasons. Ramani, a 70-year-old Jurai Sora lady from the Rayagada district of Odisha recounted how, along with many of her fellow villagers, a lack of literacy made it difficult for her to enroll. It took a year for Manjula, a Lanjia Sora homemaker from the Gajapati district of Odisha who is in her early forties, to get her Aadhaar. In separate accounts, both Ramani and Manjula shared how access to information can be challenging, particularly given that monolingual speakers need to rely on the officials or other community members to help translate across languages. Ramani is monolingual and speaks the Lanjia dialect of the Sora language (an oral language largely), whereas Manjula speaks the Jurai dialect of the same language. Government officials are generally native speakers of Odia, the official language of the Indian state of Odisha.  Dinabandhu, an elderly male Jurai Sora speaker also detailed how important public announcements are made by the Endia, a bilingual person who acts as a messenger of the government. India has a 74.8% literacy rate with more than 700 languages spoken across a country where only 22 are officially recognized. Only about 12 are used in the official implementation of Aadhaar. The State of Aadhaar report, however, claims that 92 percent of people (who were part of their study) are satisfied with Aadhaar and 90 percent of Aadhaar holders trust that their data is safe in the Aadhaar system. It is highly unlikely that someone whose language is not understood by the state, or someone who is illiterate, would express the same level of satisfaction with Aadhaar, or trust in the safety of their personal data in Aadhaar, or even understand the complexity of the security of personal data in the first place.   The real costs of exclusion I interviewed a researcher (who did not want to be named) and asked about the technical and social perspectives of Aadhaar. The researcher had worked in rural Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana — all neighboring states in South India — studying the receipt of public benefits such as pensions and PDS (Public Distribution System, a federal government initiative to provide food and essential commodities to people in need with the objective of eradicating poverty). According to the researcher, for someone already part of a public system and already receiving their benefits, the complexity of getting everything connected through Aadhaar becomes burdensome. People who do manual labor, or have an illness, or are in old age (or any of these combinations) often find their fingerprints are not detected or authenticated. The researcher, along with Dr. Ramanathan and Narayan, all emphasised in separate accounts the fact that authentication using a mobile number or biometric (it has to be either in the case of Aadhaar) has many flaws. Dr. Ramanathan also emphasised that many people who struggle to maintain a valid mobile number in their name over time  – or gave the phone number of whoever was available at the time of enrollment, and subsequently failed to update the number – always found themselves excluded. The rate of exclusion is extremely high and extremely common for such individuals. She calls those who designed Aadhaar ‘techno-utopians’, a group of tech-savvy individuals who, because of their own access to technology and other privileges – and lack of understanding of the on-the-ground reality – fail to understand the difficulties that common people in the country often face. Shyam Divan, a noted litigator, added that many people from rural India have been denied their rations because they could not verify their identity using the most-used biometric authentication – their fingerprint. He calls such a system ‘dehumanizing’. By November 2018, Right to Food Campaign activists in the Indian state of Jharkhand reported that 17 people had died in Jharkhand alone because of their failure to link their ration cards to Aadhaar – even though the State of Aadhaar report states that 80% people feel that “Aadhaar has made PDS rations, MGNREGS, or social pensions more reliable”. It is important to note that the failure, however small it might look in percentage terms, is massive in reality when you consider there are 1.3 billion people in India.   Citizenship, religion and biometrics India has experienced huge social and political turmoil because of a recent new amendment – Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA/CAB). The amendment to the 1955 Citizen Act of the Indian Constitution now allows six religious communities (of Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi and Christian faiths) fleeing persecution in Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan to legally become citizens of India. Evidently, the Act does not include Muslims (particularly the Ahmadiyyas and Sufis of Pakistan and Bangladesh), Tamils from Sri Lanka, Gorkhas from Nepal and many indigenous communities of other faiths. India’s Home Minister, Amit Shah, has periodically said that by linking with the National Register of Citizens (NRC) – a national register that separates citizens from “intruders” (translation of a Hindi-language word that the Minister often uses to describe refugees) – India will help legalize the citizenship of Hindus along with the other five religious communities from three countries while indirectly hinting about excluding Muslims. Interestingly, the NRC is based on the National Population Register (NPR) which was created in 2010 to list all the residents (citizens and non-citizens) living in India, which expanded after linking biometric data from the Aadhaar database. Dr. Ramanathan, Narayan and many other critiques of Aadhaar find the linking of Aadhaar with other databases extremely dangerous and a way forward to establishing mass surveillance, a fear that was raised against the Aadhaar Act 2016 by the then Member of Parliament, Tathagata Satpathy. Despite huge efforts to make Aadhaar the go-to ID verification for many public and private services, Section 9 of the Aadhaar Act 2016 – which talks about the authentication being used as a proof of citizenship and domicile – was called “unconstitutional” in an Indian Supreme Court verdict. Many communities during my interviews were happy to have an Aadhaar ‘card’ to themselves as an entitlement, and they now failed to imagine their lives without one.      If you have a question for Subhashish or are interested in his research, you can reach him here. To follow his whole research project, you can find an archive of his monthly field diary entries here.

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Updates from the field – Tshepo’s diary entry January 2020 - New

Updates from the field – Tshepo’s diary entry January 2020 - New

This is the second field diary entry from Tshepo, one of our Yoti Digital Identity Fellows. His year-long research project is looking at the digital identity landscape in South Africa, with a specific focus on the national smart ID identity programme from a human rights perspective. ***** My research on digital identity and fraud in South Africa has, so far, been incredibly interesting, with most people keen to share their opinions. Encouragingly, many were also eager to share their insights on a variety of issues around the subject of digital identity in particular. My research kicked off in Gauteng, focusing on metropolitan areas such as Johannesburg, Ekurhuleni, and Pretoria. My first intention is to understand the challenges that people face in urban areas since most of the population, including expats, are concentrated in these areas. The introduction of the national Smart ID card remains one of the government’s first digital initiatives. But since its introduction a few years ago, has it really helped? My research is already highlighting a lot of debate, with people questioning the security of the cards and, in turn, the safety of their identity. Some interviewees believed that an ID card was linked to their bank accounts, and that the moment they lost it they needed to contact the bank immediately or risk losing their savings. Others believed they were totally secure because of the photo embedded on the front. These were just a few of many different viewpoints I’ve been hearing and that my research aims to explore over the next few months.   Social inequalities cloud benefits of (digital) identity Given South Africa has a high rate of unemployment, it is not surprising that the majority of people affected by identity risks and challenges are concentrated in townships and rural areas. I’ve unearthed several cases of fraud driven by perpetrators scamming people. Over the past few weeks I have had the opportunity to study some of these issues during a visit to informal settlements in Pretoria West, outside a popular suburb. One person I spoke to told me that we could not look at digital identities without looking at other social inequalities and other forms of social imbalance in the country. In countries such as South Africa – a country with historic issues of social equality – the benefits of digital identity are often overlooked or ignored. Some young people told me that even after losing their ID they felt no need to rush to get a replacement since they hardly needed to use it. Worryingly, there was a significant lack of awareness around what a perpetrator might be able to do with their lost ID card. As a result, my research often starts off as an awareness-raising exercise, helping make people aware of the importance of keeping their identity safe and protected to avoid any type of fraudulent activity.   Forged IDs and lost documents In South Africa, the most commonly-used form of identity is often a drivers license, primarily because drivers are required by law to carry it. This, of course, presents a problem for young people who don’t own a car or drive, and whose primary need for an ID is to apply for jobs and educational-related services. As social services provided by the government become more and more overstretched, requiring an ID of some kind to access them can also be problematic. As a result, we have people trying to forge identity documents and residency so they can present themselves as legal citizens in order to receive essential government services. And we have people carrying out identity theft in order to obtain certain benefits, or to commit fraudulent activities due to the high rate of unemployment in the country. While others may have lost their ID and decided not to replace it, many people still do not have an ID despite considerable government investment in the Smart ID card scheme. This is especially true in segregated areas such as rural areas and townships. Thankfully, the government have improved its systems to allow a faster turnaround in issuing Smart ID cards from six months to within a week. The government uses this as proof to its critics that it is committed to providing digital identities to all citizens.   Digital fraud Many issues raised by interviewees in urban areas centred around digital fraud, something which is becoming a growing concern given more and more young people are getting online, and social media has become the primary form of communication. People are now meeting and networking more and more online with large amounts of data being shared without safeguards in place. More transactions also take place online, something considered to be the safest way of paying when compared to carrying cash – but is it safe? My research has so far highlighted considerable amounts of fraud taking place online, but young people also get into trouble when they meet strangers online whom, over the course of time, think they have developed a form of trust without any verification of the true identity of that person. South Africa, in general, is ready for the digital revolution. We see our government trying to minimize certain physical contact services and move them online, and the private sector has been pushing hard to shift much of their service offerings online. But one main issue remains – the lack of investment in the regulation and verification of the systems we are trying to implement. I hope that my research will help highlight some of these challenges, and that I will be able to help mitigate some of these risks.   If you have a question for Tshepo or are interested in his research, you can reach him here. To follow his whole research project, you can find an archive of his monthly field diary entries here.

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Digital ID, smart ID and identity in South Africa

Digital ID, smart ID and identity in South Africa

This is the first field diary entry from Tshepo, one of our Yoti Digital Identity Fellows. His year-long research project is looking at the digital identity landscape in South Africa, with a specific focus on the national smart ID identity programme from a human rights perspective. *** South African SmartID Cards play a crucial role in identifying and eliminating digital identity fraud in South Africa. Future developments here will likely have repercussions for the entire African continent, given that South Africa is the most developed country in the region. My Fellowship will examine South Africa’s national digital identity programme from a human rights perspective, and will propose safeguards and policy recommendations for those involved: public officials, lawmakers, representatives from judicial and human rights institutions, technologists, officers of development institutions, and members of the private sector.    National Digital ID programs Countries all over the world are increasingly focusing on issues related to digital identity, and these are now at the center of many policy discussions. As a consequence, increasing numbers of governments have either proposed or are implementing programs relating to digital identity on a national level. These programs are directly administered by the government or implemented through government support and aim to provide a single identity to all residents, which in some cases is limited to national citizens and excludes expatriates.  Biometrics are often the focal point of these national ID programs, as establishing the identity of a person involves gathering, storing and processing biometric data. Advocates vs critics Advocates of these programs say that national-level initiatives such as these provide several benefits. They allow the national government to provide services seamlessly and efficiently to its citizens and residents. They also believe that national ID programs are crucial for state welfare, poverty alleviation drives, fraud elimination and higher inclusivity. These programs are also the foundation of national security efforts. Critics, however, believe differently. They argue that these programs do not guarantee more benefits, better government services, or enhanced administration for the public. Instead they create serious issues because of the way they are planned and implemented. There are grave concerns, in particular, in areas relating to cybersecurity, data protection and privacy. There is also the risk of social exclusion, something my colleagues on the Yoti Fellowship Programme are researching. Multiple forms of ID To make it possible for these national ID drives to achieve their goals, several critical issues must be addressed. Governments must design a framework that takes technical, legal, and social factors into account. This framework should accommodate anonymity, informed consent and choice for its users. Centralised national ID schemes also focus on providing just one form of ID for each person and do not allow for multiple ID forms that could be better in many respects. Multiple ID forms can increase competition and lead to the provision of better services for users. Multiple IDs also have the potential to empower the cardholders by giving them a choice of which identity method they use in differing circumstances. My Fellowship will focus on schemes that allow only one ID card per person, and will investigate the effects and consequences of this approach for its users. Digital Identity in South Africa The population of the Republic of South Africa is around 51 million people. South Africa shares its borders with six other countries, and it has an extremely ethnically diverse population. A green ID book is mandated for citizens as well as permanent residents over the age of 16. This bar-coded ID serves as proof of user identity for several important situations such as opening a bank account, applying for a driver’s license, a passport application, voting registration, and more. Unfortunately, the green ID book has proved to be highly vulnerable to theft and fraud, creating security problems which affect both the people and the government. The Department of Home Affairs (DHA) launched the SmartID card system in part to address these concerns, and in part as an investment drive to update and modernize technology in the country.  On 18th July 2013, the DHA commenced the replacement of green ID books with these new SmartID Cards. Since the new cards have a host of advanced security features they are resistant to tampering and forging. Despite these features, the cards are not foolproof, and several fraudulent marriages and other digital identity scams have been exposed by local media.  The government of South Africa claim that the new cards are durable and secure thanks to the choice of high-quality polycarbonate material. Other physical features including laser engraving, holograms and personal information are also designed to make fraud more difficult. It is expected that these cards will dramatically reduce the incidence of identity theft and fraud in South Africa. Research questions My research will seek answers to the following questions to help determine the performance of these cards in relation to ID fraud prevention: Have ID-related frauds declined in South Africa, following the introduction of the new SmartID cards? What new technological developments might be available to further boost the security of these cards? How can these cards be used to improve government services to the public? Fellowship goals The following are the goals for my fellowship: Assessing the effects of national identity programs on human rights. Suggesting policy recommendations and safeguards to key stakeholders like cardholders, government officials, lawmakers, judicial bodies and human rights organizations. Identifying and analyzing fraud cases. Examining trends concerning the old green books and new SmartID cards to evaluate the consequences of the ID program. Next steps The research carried out during my Fellowship is the first of its kind, and is aimed at determining whether the promise of SmartID cards has been met. If you have a question for Tshepo or are interested in his research, you can reach him here. To follow his whole research project, you can find an archive of his monthly field diary entries here.

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