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Biometric IDs could give Africa a place in the 4IR

Yehia El Amine

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Biometric IDs

The Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) is attributed to a mélange of the digital, biological, and physical worlds, with rapidly advancing technologies at the helm such as artificial intelligence (AI), cloud computing, robotics, the Internet of Things (IoT), 5G and many more.

These technologies are already laying the ground for massive socio-economic disruptions that promise to change how people function on the day-to-day.

This has a profound meaning for the African continent, with millions unbanked, unregistered, or digitally invisible. While Africa has been left behind during past industrial revolutions, it seems this time might be different.

From a technology perspective, digital financial services, or Fintech reigns supreme in Africa, mainly due to a large number of its peoples being unbanked. However, that could change as the African governments currently attempt to rollout biometric IDs for its citizens.

According to the World Bank, Africa is home to roughly half of the estimated one billion people in the world who are unable to prove their identities. To help remedy that, the World Bank has mobilized more than $1.2bn to support ID projects in 45 countries.

Nearly every African country with a stable government now has active biometric ID programs in place or under way, according to ID4Africa, with South Africa and Nigeria’s biometric IDs among the most developed.

ID4Africa is an initiative kickstarted by the World Bank Group that conducts Identity Management Systems Analyses (IMSAs) to evaluate countries’ identity ecosystems and facilitate collaboration with governments for future work.

To date, analyses have been conducted in 17 African countries, including Botswana, Chad, Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Ethiopia, Guinea, Kenya, Liberia, Madagascar, Morocco, Namibia, Nigeria, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Tanzania, and Zambia.

The eagerness of African governments to build biometric ID systems, coupled with the wealth of international funds available, makes Africa a ripe and coveted market for biometric ID providers.

According to a report by Research and Markets, the global biometrics market accounted for $17.28 billion in 2018 and is expected to reach $76.64 billion by 2027, growing at a CAGR of 18 percent during the forecast period.

“By authentication type, voice recognition is supposed to witness significant growth due to the consumer’s likes for a safer identity mechanism. Technological advancement in biometrics and the growing popularity of voice recognition biometrics in the BFSI sector will propel market growth of this segment during the forecast period,” the report highlighted.

While in Africa, the market for biometric and digital identity documents alone is estimated at $1.7 billion, according to Acuity Market Intelligence.

What are biometric IDs?

Market leader Thales defines biometric IDs as the process of comparing data for the person’s characteristics to that person’s biometric “template” to determine resemblance.

The reference model is first store in a database or a secure portable element like a smart card; the data stored is then compared to the person’s biometric data to be authenticated.

“Biometric identification consists of determining the identity of a person, with an aim to capture an item of biometric data from this person, consisting as a photo of their face, a record of their voice, or an image of their fingerprint, which is then compared to the biometric data of several other persons kept in a database,” the study by Thales explained.

While this data brings a person’s identity into the limelight, it can help via a plethora of other day-to-day functions such as increasing government support through organizations, increasing adoption of biometric authentication in banking and healthcare sector (E-banking and mobile payments), and increased security and convenience for consumers.

What’s happening on the ground?

In Liberia, biometric IDs are aiding the government’s efforts to remove ghost workers within the public sector, in an attempt to shrink the country’s expenditures.

The country formed a National Payroll Clean-up Taskforce that announced earlier in the year that no civil servant will be paid without submitting a biometric National Identification Number starting July 1st.

“We commend President George Manneh Weah for supporting our team in these painstaking efforts undertaken over the past year to streamline the Government wage bill, which had grown to US$327 million in 2018 and represented more 68 percent of our National Budget but has now been stabilized at US$297 million,” James Thompson, Acting Civil Service Agency (CSA) Director General, was quoted as saying.

The taskforce – made up of the CSA, National Identification Registry (NIR) and Internal Audit Agency and Ministry of Finance and Development Planning (MFDP) – launched the E-verification Platform. The platform grants the CSA and MFDP access to the NIR’s biometric ID database to properly manage salaries.

“With the continuous political will and support of the President Weah, and the Cabinet, and the entire Liberian workforce, this unusually high compensation cost will sustainably be reduced to free up the needed fiscal space to fund investment programs and service delivery that were critical to achieving any substantive change for the citizens of Liberia,” Thompson added.

Zipping to Togo, the country’s parliament has officially given the greenlight to begin implementation of their “e-ID Togo,” the national biometric identity project.

Expected to begin in early 2021, the biometric ID scheme will look to create unique numbers for each citizen in an attempt to increase access to public services such as welfare and establishing universal public healthcare.

“The adoption of this law is historic because it lays the legal foundations of the system in Togo,” Cina Lawson, minister of posts, digital economy, and tech innovation, was quoted as saying.

In East Africa, a countrywide digital security debate has been ignited in Kenya regarding the lack of regulatory framework for the country’s biometric IDs, with activists sounding the alarm on the project’s safety measures.

The main concern is fears over the continent’s lack of a legal digital ecosystem that could see citizens, including vulnerable LGBTQ communities, being exposed to privacy abuses and breaches.

As with other disruptive technologies, biometric IDs need to be properly regulated and secured to evade exploitation efforts by malicious users.

Biometric IDs hold greater value to the economy, especially in the case of Africa; they represent the ability to elevate the continent’s economy by focusing on their human capital to pioneer the technologies accompanying the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

Africa was left behind in previous industrial revolutions, but if done right, the proper implementation of biometric IDs could place the continent as a force to be reckoned with in the digital economies of the future.

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Yehia is an investigative journalist and editor with extensive experience in the news industry as well as digital content creation across the board. He strives to bring the human element to his writing.

Telecoms

Telstra announces $157 million co-investment fund to extend coverage

Karim Husami

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Telstra announces $157 million co-investment fund to extend coverage

Australian operator Telstra has announced a $157 million co-investment fund to generate additional investment in expanding regional mobile coverage.

This funding is in addition to the $118 million that Telstra plans to invest in the next 12 months to expand regional connectivity.

Telstra CEO Andrew Penn said the co-investment fund would run over the next four years and was aimed at enhancing and extending mobile coverage through stimulating infrastructure co-investment with governments, local councils and businesses in areas that would otherwise be difficult to justify on economic grounds.

“Technology is going to play a major role in meeting both of these aspirations – perhaps the most important role. Telecommunications technology is continuing to advance from 3G to 4G, 4G to 5G, from ADSL to NBN and from copper to fibre, satellite and mobile, and this is helping to bring new solutions to solve old problems,” he said in a statement.

Penn added: “In addition to the newly announcement co-investment fund, Telstra would be investing a further AUD 150 million ($118 million) over the next 12 months to improve its regional networks in a number of important areas.”

Both the $118 million and $157 million allotments are both backed up by a number of projects that has been awarded by the federal government, the telco claimed.

This includes the Regional Connectivity Program — which is set to receive $19.3 million in additional funding by the government in the upcoming Budget for 2021-22 — with Telstra working with the federal government to power $43 million worth of network upgrades.

Penn also claimed it was the only major mobile provider to both win projects and commit funding to improve services.

He said the telco has also participated in the federal government’s Mobile Black Spot Program, with it contributing “more than double the capital investment of the rest of the industry put together to build more than two thirds of the mobile black spot towers in the program,” he claimed.

Among the projects are eight mobile coverage improvements from Telstra, two mobile coverage upgrades from Pivotel, three projects upgrading fixed wireless coverage, two improving satellite broadband connectivity, and one project more than $2.53 million to shift from satellite coverage to fiber to the premise in Halls Creek.

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Three Chinese telcos to be delisted from NYSE

Inside Telecom Staff

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Three major Chinese telcos said late last week that they will be delisted from the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) after the latter denied their requests for appeal, Reuters reported.

The delisting comes in line with the U.S.’ Communist Chinese military companies (CCMC) under the National Defense Authorization Act of 1999, enacted by the former Trump Administration.

The CCMC designation bars any U.S. investors from purchasing any shares or stakes from companies that the government considers to be linked to the Chinese military.

The three telcos – China Mobile, China Unicom, and China Telecom Corp – had filed an appeal request to the NYSE to review their delisting as soon as U.S. President Joe Biden was sworn in as the 46th president back in January.

The telcos noted in separate statements last week, that they expect the NYSE to notify regulators of their delisting after the appeal was rejected.

According to Reuters, the companies had highlighted that the delisting will become effective ten days after the exchange files a Form 25 to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

The three telcos join the likes of Huawei and ZTE who have also been delisted – however, budget smartphone maker Xiaomi was able to escape the same fate after a U.S. federal judge rolled back the blacklisting on the company citing insufficient evidence that Xiaomi posed a national security threat.

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NY: Broadband cos paid for 8.5M fake net neutrality comments

Associated Press

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The Office of the New York Attorney General said in a new report that a campaign funded by the broadband industry submitted millions of fake comments supporting the 2017 repeal of net neutrality.

The Federal Communications Commission’s contentious 2017 repeal undid Obama-era rules that barred internet service providers from slowing or blocking websites and apps or charging companies more for faster speeds to consumers. The industry had sued to stop these rules during the Obama administration but lost.

The proceeding generated a record-breaking number of comments — more than 22 million — and nearly 18 million were fake, the attorney general’s office found. It has long been known that the tally included fake comments.

One 19-year-old in California submitted more than 7.7 million pro-net neutrality comments. The attorney general’s office did not identify the origins of another “distinct group” of more than 1.6 million pro-net neutrality comments, many of which used mailing addresses outside the U.S.

A broadband industry group, called Broadband for America, spent $4.2 million generating more than 8.5 million of the fake FCC comments. Half a million fake letters were also sent to Congress.

The goal of the broadband industry campaign, according to internal documents the attorney general’s office received, was to make it seem like there was “widespread grassroots support” for the repeal of net neutrality that could give the FCC chairman at the time, Ajit Pai, “volume and intellectual cover” for the repeal.

The agency is supposed to use the comments it receives, from industry and public-industry groups and the public, to shape how it makes its rules.

The FCC did not immediately answer how or if it has changed its commenting process, but the acting chairwoman, Jessica Rosenworcel, said in a prepared statement that “widespread problems with the record” of the 2017 proceedings “was troubling at the time” and the agency has to learn and improve the commenting process.

The fake comments had high-profile victims. In 2018, two senators, Democrat Jeff Merkley of Oregon and Republican Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, said their identities were stolen to file fake comments for the net neutrality proceeding. “We were among those whose identities were misused to express viewpoints we do not hold,” they wrote to the FCC’s then-chairman, Pai, asking him to investigate the fake comments.

Many expect the FCC to try to reinstate net neutrality rules once a third Democratic commissioner is appointed. The agency is currently split half Democrat and Republican, which makes undoing the repeal unlikely.

Broadband for America’s website says its members include AT&T and Comcast as well as major trade groups for the wireless, cable and telecom industries.

The campaign hired companies known as lead generators which created the fake comments, but that the attorney general’s office had not found evidence that the broadband companies had “direct knowledge of fraud” and thus they had not violated New York law, according to the report.

Still, the report criticized the broadband industry group’s behavior as “troubling,” saying the campaign organizers ignored red flags and hid the broadband industry’s involvement.

The lead generators copied names and addresses they had already collected and said those people had agreed to join the campaign against net neutrality, the report said. One company copied information that had been stolen in a data breach and posted online.

The attorney general, Letitia James, also announced agreements with three of the companies that were responsible for millions of the fake comments, Fluent Inc., Opt-Intelligence Inc. and React2Media Inc., that require them to change practices in future advocacy campaigns and pay $4.4 million in fines. The companies did not reply to requests for comment.

The attorney general’s office and other law enforcement agencies are still investigating “other responsible parties,” according to the report.

AT&T, Comcast and industry trade groups NCTA and USTelecom did not respond to questions.


By TALI ARBEL AP Technology Writer.

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