What you need to know:
- Profiling Ugandans? Besides the genetic information, the government will deploy technology to pick fingerprints and eye properties of applicants to ease verification of their particulars when needed, Gen David Muhoozi, the State Minister for Internal Affairs, said.
- It is unclear how the government will harvest people’s DNA.
The government plans to harvest DNA (Deoxyribonucleic Acid properties) of citizens and issue to holders new, or replacement, National Identity (ID) cards containing such genetic information.
Elements of how the scheme will run are still under discussion, but Gen David Muhoozi, the State minister for Internal Affairs, told parliamentary plenary late Thursday evening that the government will issue “smart digital” IDs going forward once the current versions expire.
ALSO READ: Govt to change national ID cards
The government through the National Identification and Registration Authority (NIRA) began issuing National IDs in 2014, and the first batch expires in 2024, because each, like a passport, is valid for only 10 years.
“Expected outcomes of the exercise shall include…substitution of the (expiring) National ID cards upon expiry, and [their] upgrading … to a smart card [Electronic ID or EID] and creation of personal digital identity, upgrade of the verification system and integration of the Iris recognition biometric technology and DNA in the NIRA system,” the minister said.
DNA, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), is “a molecule inside cells that contains the genetic information responsible for the development and function of an organism … [and] allow this information to be passed from one generation to the next”.
It means harvesting citizens’ DNA en masse gives the state, or government, if it wants, the power to map out people’s biological relations in addition to declarations that ID applicants are required to make about their ancestry.
This prompted some Members of Parliament, among them Mr Abed Bwanika representing Kimaanya-Kaboneera, to question whether such data collection is not invasive.
“Do you want to profile the blood of the people of Uganda? If that so because that will be unprecedented. Do you want to keep the data of the entire population in form of DNA? Do you want to go into our privacy in our blood as government?” he said.
What lawyer says
In comments to our inquiry, private attorney Kenneth Situma said the constitutional right to privacy is derogable. He argued that the government, in this NIRA, under Section 7 of the Data Protection and Privacy Act, 2019 has the power to collect citizens’ data if necessary for the proper performance of a public duty by a public body, national security, or medical purposes.
“The state needs such information to be used for planning reasons too. For instance, if there is an influx of refugees in a given area such as places near refugee-hosting communities who tend to integrate and mix with Ugandans and later claim to be Ugandans. Such information can be used to differentiate Ugandans from non-Ugandans,” Mr Situma said.
He added: “The state has to guarantee that such sensitive data collected from citizens is well secured under Section 20 of the Act and [in the] instance where there is breach of such information then the state will be held liable.”
NIRA, he said, must put in place mechanisms to safeguard such vast personal data of citizens; otherwise, “their security will compromise” if the information is breached.
At the Thursday sitting, which was attended by few MPs, minister Muhoozi said the automation of an individual’s information on an ID was to scale up technology, and expedite verification of a person’s particulars whenever required.
“NIRA seeks to take advantage of the strides in technology that will increase portability and verification to support global transactions. The exercise will improve accuracy and credibility of the register for planning and improved service delivery,” he said.
Mass registration for the electronic ID with chip inserts containing a holder’s DNA information, he said, will start in January 2023 through a multi-sectoral approach led by national technical taskforce providing leadership for the exercise.”
The government also plans to deploy IRIS recognition biometric technology, which www.techtarget.com defines as a method of “identifying people based on unique patterns within the ring-shaped region surrounding the pupil of the eye”. These identifiers, like fingerprints, vary from individual to individuals and colours such as grey, blue, greenish or brown.
Gen Muhoozi’s disclosures were prompted by Wakiso District Woman Member of Parliament Betty Ethel Naluyima, who sought to know the government’s plan about impending expiry of 15.8 million National IDs issued in 2014/2015.
Some of the biometric information captured in the original identification documents fades over time, the minister said, and the data for issuance of the new digital versions --- to be issued by Uganda Printing and Publishing Corporation (UPPC) to those seeking express processing at a fee --- will be integrated between UPPC and NIRA systems.
“The exercise should potentially generate revenue for the government; details of which are also being computed,” he said, attracting immediate disapproval from the House.
Deputy Speaker Thomas Tayebwa, who chaired the session, said Ugandans should not be made to pay for the National ID because the government has made it a mandatory document for citizens to hold and use for a range of services, including banking, and salary access.
Ms Rose Obiga, the vocal Terego District Woman MP, rejected the plan for citizens to pay for ID, arguing that it will compound access of the document for millions since obtaining the current free versions is a nightmare for thousands of applicants due to NIRA’s inefficiency.
The Busujju County MP, Mr David Lukyamuzi, said “one wonders when this government will ever serve its people [because] already the process of getting a National ID is hectic”.
“We are not going to be creating business for individuals. Let this be a free service to the people,” he said.
His Nakaseke Central counterpart Allan Ssebunya sought a special consideration for persons with disabilities some of whom he said have no fingers or eyes, yet these physical features are captured for identification.
How scheme will work
• Mass registration for the smart digital National IDs commences in January next year as the first batch of the original identification documents expire in 2024.
• Applicants will apply and input bio-data information online, which will be captured in an auto-generated QR code only readable by a NIRA machine as a means to protect personal details.
• In parts of the country with limited or no Internet access, NIRA registration assistants will be deployed in every parish to capture the biometrics of applicants.
• They will work from Monday to Saturday every week, and it is estimated they will cover a district with 17 parishes at most within two-and-half months.
• This is based on the assumption that 10 people will be registered every hour. Applicants can check the status of their ID application by dialing *216#, or through the NIRA website.
WHAT THEY SAY
Gen David Muhoozi, State minister for Internal Affairs: “Expected outcomes of the exercise shall include…substitution of the (expiring) National ID cards upon expiry, and [their] upgrading … to a smart card [Electronic ID or EID] and creation of personal digital identity, upgrade of the verification."
Abed Bwanika, Kimaanya-Kaboneera MP: “Do you want to profile the blood of the people of Uganda? If that so because that will be unprecedented. Do you want to keep the data of the entire population in form of DNA? Do you want to go into our privacy in our blood as government?”
David Lukyamuzi, Busujju County MP: “One wonders when this government will ever serve its people [because] already the process of getting a National ID is hectic. We are not going to be creating business for individuals. Let this be a free service to the people.”
Rose Obiga, Terego Woman MP, rejected the plan for citizens to pay for ID, arguing that it will compound access of the document for millions since obtaining the current free versions is a nightmare for thousands of applicants due to NIRA’s inefficiency.