South Africa’s Biometric Bungle (II)


TWO YEARS ago, Medialternatives reported that Nedbank had abandoned its roll-out of a biometric fingerprinting device “pursuant to legislation” being passed and which ignored issues such as privacy, the right to bodily integrity and user consent.

We also reported earlier on the Personal Information Bill “A piece of post-RICA and 911 legislation drawn up by government securocrats that could open the doorway to intrusive gathering of biometric information by private companies under the pretext of new privacy protections in the “’interests of the consumer'”.

This didn’t stop other banks such as FNB from implementing biometric devices without the consent of clients, and without clarity on the Personal Information Bill. It is still unclear how the state intends protecting consumers from any potential fraud that may arise if such records are swapped, or if the system is mismanaged by those with something to gain from foreclosures. We are rapidly approaching a “matrix world” in which credit information, online banking details and the like can be switched out at the flick of a switch, as personal information becomes increasingly centralised.

Now this month, has seen yet another biometrics fiasco, this time biometric data gathering is at the centre of a storm around the unworkable VISA regulations implemented by Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba. The new Visa requirements which include unabridged birth certificates for minors travelling with their parents, have resulted in the loss of “66 000 foreign tourists due to changes in the immigration regulations,” this year alone, according to the Tourism Business Council of SA.

The regulations require tourists from countries that are required to have a visa to now appear in person during the visa application process in order to obtain a biometric visa. The predictable result — tourists have chosen to go elsewhere, to places with less government red-tape and less encroachment on ones right to privacy.

Readers may remember Minister Gigaba, as the same person who introduced plans for a “national firewall” that would have seen South African Internet go the way of China. The plan was quickly shelved after ISPs pointed out that it was unworkable, but seems to have resurfaced under the new Film and Publications Board Bill.

Commentators have expressed concern at the high-handed manner in which the new Visa regulations have been rolled-out with scant regard for the consequences and economic losses, and have asked, if it is perhaps time for the Minister of Home Affairs to join the ranks of the unemployed?

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