The private sector wants a stake in legal ID (ep. 4)

August 22, 2022

The private sector is part of legal ID. But is it trying to set an agenda beyond legal ID? What mechanisms do governments have to control it? And a case study from Cameroon.

The private sector has a role to play in legal identity. Is this a good thing? Is it inevitable? We explore how private companies are involved in ID schemes around the world and how new open-source, plug and play ID platforms give governments more control over that private sector involvement.

But is the private sector also affecting or setting the agenda? ID4Africa, the main driver of identity ventures on the continent, is changing its mission far beyond legal identity. We look at private sector messaging on legal identity and its fusion with digital and biometric ID that was presented at the ID4Africa 2022 summit.

Our Cameroonian reporter presents his home country as a case study for the impact on daily life of private sector contracts not delivering what they promised.

04:20 Chris Burt on the involvement of the private sector in legal identity

07:20 Private sector activity in legal identity increasing in proportion to legal identity project growth

08:50 Push for more trustworthy ID requires more technology

09:40 Governments, civil society increasingly aware of vendor lock-in, legal frameworks required

11:40 [Clip] Collen Vixen Kelapile, President of the United Nations Economic and Social Council, ECOSOC, on transforming governance to reach 2030 goals

14:35 Chris Burt on the private sector in humanitarian settings

15:43 IrisGuard

16:50 Local technology: trends of large firms opening local offices or establishing partnerships, local firms specializing more in functional identity than legal

17:55 BioRugged, Tech5, Integrated Biometrics, Innovatrics

21:00 Platforms tackling vendor lock-in: MOSIP, OSIA

24:35 Focus on MOSIP

26:02 Change of mission of ID4Africa and private sector, to expand legal identity to include digital, biometrics

27:10 [Clips] Charlotte Chateau, marketing manager for identity and biometric solutions at Thales on identity for service access, SDG 16, biometrics as part of a unique legal identity

29:14 Changing mission statement of ID4Africa beyond legal identity

29:44 [Clip] Dr Joseph Atick, ID4Africa Executive Chairman on mission moving beyond digital ID to overall new digital governance including legal ID

32:25 Ayang Macdonald on the private sector exhibition at ID4Africa

34:35 Cameroon situation for national ID contracts

42:05 Importance of ID card contract holder

43:30 Cameroon has no data protection law

Find out more about the ID16.9 Podcast and the importance of legal identity at ID169.com

Produced and hosted by Frank Hersey at Biometric Update

FRANK HERSEY: Welcome to the ID16.9 podcast where we delve into the United Nations Sustainable Development goal for just about everyone on earth to have a legal identity by 2030. We look at why more than a billion people have no formal way of proving who they are, how this affects their lives and whether we’re on track for the 2030 deadline.

In this episode, we’re looking at the role of the private sector.

Legal identity is your way of proving who you are before the law or accessing government services as Niall McCann of the UNDP explained previously.

NIALL MCCANN: Who would you be before the court system if you ended up before the court system? You know, we say legal identity in that your identity before the law.

FRANK HERSEY: It’s about who you are in the world. Part of the social contract. Fully public or civic venture, right? Well, when there’s a government need to do something, there’s always a private company willing to help out. Some of these companies have been helping out lots of governments and have grown quite large, or even influential, you might say. More on that later.

Here we’re starting our exploration of the private sector, which we’ll revisit from time to time. In this episode, we’ll discuss how involved private companies are in government schemes and in humanitarian settings. We look at open source and open standard platforms as ways for governments to control how they use private companies. Listen out for the issue of colonialism in ID systems, a topic we hope to return to.

The ID16.9 Podcast is ultimately about legal identity. That ability to prove who you are. Though in many countries legal identity is the first step towards getting something called foundational identity. In many places this would be a national ID card.

So you would have something which proves who you are, such as a birth certificate, and then you would take it to an agency and have a national ID card issued. And so in this episode we are straddling a little between the two concepts of legal ID and then the foundational ID which is based on it and which is what you actually use day to day.

Then there’s other things like biometrics which can be used to make sure a person is uniquely identified, there’s digital identity for using idea online, and while legal identity is the burning issue, we already have to take a look at how legal identity is being merged with digital identity and sometimes biometrics because that’s where the private sector plus organizations and governments are heading. But don’t worry, all should become clear.

This podcast is brought to you by Biometric Update, where I spend most of my time along with colleagues around the world reporting on digital identity and biometric technologies. There’s three of us on three different continents covering the issues in this episode. We’re going to get something of a case study from my colleague Ayang Macdonald in Cameroon…

AYANG MACDONALD: Now Thales delivers them, you know, in three months. But that’s too much time to wait for a document that is that important for the citizen, given that you have to use it for almost every transaction that you’re carrying along.

FRANK HERSEY: Which gets a little personal…

AYANG MACDONALD: Actually I have a broken card, you know, which is just less than four years old and it still has about six years’ validity. I can’t throw it away because it would take me a lifetime to get a new ID card.

FRANK HERSEY: But joining me first is my colleague Chris Burt in Canada. Hello, Chris.

CHRIS BURT: Hello, Frank.

FRANK HERSEY: And I should say I’m Frank Hersey in the UK.

So the private sector and legal identity. Chris has been reporting on identity issues and biometrics since not long after the fingerprint was invented. So we’re in safe hands.

Chris, I think we assume that legal identity is a thoroughly public sector affair. How involved is the private sector?

CHRIS BURT: Well, thank you for that introduction, Frank, and yeah, you’re absolutely right. Of course the provision of legal identity often does bring in private sector actors. And I think it’s important to recognize that this has been the case so long as there have been large scale legal identity projects in the developed world as well as the developing world. So sometimes private sector involvement comes in the form of document issuance, but more lately has more to do with digitization and handling massive amounts of volume and some of the technologies that come along with ensuring that legal identity is perhaps more trustworthy than previous attempts have made it.

So what that has resulted in is a situation where there are some large incumbents that are related to state governments, you know, that are related to to governments particularly in the developed world and in fact particularly in countries that have pasts as colonial powers. So those include some of the largest names in the digital identity market in general, including companies like Idemia, and De La Rue, Giesecke+Devrient, and their their subsidiary Veridos… Semlex, a lot of large powerful companies, those ones all based in Europe, that have been helping governments carrying out contracts that relate to legal identity and then also to not so much legal identity, but functional identity, that’s maybe built on the foundation set by that legal identity.

FRANK HERSEY: It seems that that the private sector is quite broadly integrated with legal identity and also that is keeping pace with developments around the world and with technologies. Do you think there’s any indication of whether or not the private sector is increasingly involved?

CHRIS BURT: I think that in the sense that biometrics have recently, relatively recently, been introduced to legal identity in order to make it more trustworthy, in that sense there is absolutely a whole set of private sector actors who were not involved a generation or two ago, but who increasingly, particularly over the last decade, have played a role in generating the records, enrolling people in systems, and sometimes that simply involves providing an algorithm or equipment, but sometimes it’s more involved than that.

And so I think it’s fair to say that private sector involvement is increasing, but it seems to be proportional to the increase in concern over legal identity as a whole. That’s my impression.

FRANK HERSEY: Yeah, I think I suppose I see this with a view of the United Nations goals and legal identity as being something very much from the state that I’m wondering whether this should be a purely public, you know, we’re looking at this sort of human rights side of it all here. But do you think there are any problems with the private sector being involved? Is it in any way a bad thing that the private sector is so involved in legal identity?

CHRIS BURT: I think that’s a perfectly reasonable question and one that that certainly has a, would be answered in different ways by different people, different stakeholders or civil society groups, I think would would give different answers to that question. From where I sit it appears that as the drive to extend legal identity to more people and to do it in a more trustworthy way, that therefore brings in more technologies, as this occurs, budgets rise and the stakes rise with those budgets. And so therefore the oversight of the projects and the internal capacity has to improve along with the budget in order to ensure that projects are not unduly influenced or that the balance isn’t shifted to make things easier for companies supplying technology.

There’s also being some pushback over the years from governments about some of the way that the market has operated. And I know we’re going to talk a little bit more about some of the results of that pushback and I’m thinking in particular of open source and open standards based approaches to providing technologies. I think that’s a fairly direct response from the private sector to a demand from the public sector, from government actors, to some extent from civil society and the international development community, surely. But I think first and foremost from, you know government ministers and bureaucrats and people trying to operate systems in countries where they have found that the market was generating problems like vendor lock-in that are probably, that should improve, let’s say, based on some of these initiatives. And so I would say that as in any other area, undue influence from one stakeholder group is going to cause problems. And so if the private sector is being asked to do things in say an environment where the policy is lacking, where the legal frameworks are lacking, then there’s always going to be a risk.

FRANK HERSEY: Yeah I think as well within the overall, the overarching goal of SDG 16.9 for identity for all, I think the UN can be quite realistic.

I know when I’ve spoken to people from the UN about the role of the private sector, I think there’s a sort of realism there that the private sector might need to be involved. And then I was listening to, this was in April, I was listening to a UN conference on Sustainable Development Goal 16, the overall set of goals – peace, justice and strong institutions – and that’s what goal 16.9 sits within. And so there was a conference dedicated to that set of goals. I’ve got a clip lined up and this is from Collen Vixen Kelapile and he’s the President of the United Nations Economic and Social Council, ECOSOC. This is what he has to say about transforming governance.

COLLEN VIXEN KELAPILE: The transformative vision of the 2030 agenda calls for new thinking and new ways of working. One cannot hope to build a better future for all with the same old patterns of behavior, from the international level, to the national level, in the public sector and in society as a whole, to the local level. It is those ingrained habits that have led us to where we are today. The question then is what do we mean by transforming governance?

FRANK HERSEY: He’s talking about governance more broadly and he doesn’t specify the private sector, but do you think we could be seeing more encouragement of the private sector by the UN?

CHRIS BURT: I think it’s clear that the UN has made a point of engaging with the private sector on this issue. Whether they’re encouraging more involvement from the private sector is kind of difficult for me to say. What does seem to me based on that quote as well as others, you played a quote in the past from Cornelius Williams talking about the need for transformative processes, transformative processes often come with transformative technologies, and so I think that comment sort of aligns with the one we just heard in the sense that the advice or encouragement seems to me to be more directed.

So it’s a little bit less, can you help this government, and a little bit more can you help this government do this thing? Can you help them transform their process? And so some of that is related to things like a shift from fixed enrollment stations in population centers to mobile technologies that may be easier to reach remote populations or make it easier for people to involve themselves in the process without, you know, say, losing a day’s wages to travel somewhere. That’s just one example, but my impression is that the United Nations is maybe more so trying to steer the private sector rather than hit the gas pedal.

FRANK HERSEY: Yeah, perhaps not encouragement but accepting the need for their involvement.

CHRIS BURT: And a specific kind of involvement, right?

FRANK HERSEY: Yes. And I suppose another area of specifics is the humanitarian sector which can be, you know, suddenly very specific in an area. I was wondering what sorts of developments we’re seeing there with private sector involvement in humanitarian setting for ID?

CHRIS BURT: Well, humanitarian settings are of course, it’s a discrete area, but also kind of encompasses a few different things. And so sometimes that means the United Nations-affiliated agency, and and in some cases it’s a little more distant than that, we have groups like the Red Cross that have been, for instance, debating whether or not biometrics should be used at all. Right? And I think that debate will continue and related debates about if we’re going to use this technology, how should we use it? How is it safe to do so? How can we preserve the freedom and the dignity and the rights of people who are in very vulnerable situations?

So one of the things that we’ve seen in those efforts is the use of some relatively advanced technology like iris biometrics used for payments in situations like the large migrant camps, situations where there are problems with fraud, but also a lot of the mechanisms that we would normally think of to mitigate those are not really available or not as effective.

So, you know, one company of some note in providing the iris technology is IrisGuard, and that their efforts of late also kind of dovetail with another trend that we’re seeing which is a move towards decentralized systems or systems that at least attempt to place more control in the hands of the subject. The person receiving the payment or the person trying to prove who they are so that they can get across the border or something like that.

We’ve also seen, and in some cases that goes as far as self sovereign identity type models, but not necessarily, and that’s I think in the works.

FRANK HERSEY: I think for the involvement in the humanitarian settings, the big private sector companies tend to be, well still European I would say, but smaller than some other ones providing, you know, government projects. With all of this, it does seem that it is companies large and small from more developed nations. What’s going on in terms of local firms making headway with providing identity?

CHRIS BURT: Well I think there’s actually two trends to highlight in terms of sort of increasing geographical diversity and let’s say local engagement or feet on the ground. So there are companies in Africa and in Southeast Asia that are providing some of these services, and in Latin America, but for the most part I would say that those companies are focused outside of legal identity and actually on functional identity. So I’m thinking of VerifyMe Nigeria and Youverify both have grown quite a bit but are not really so much focused on providing, you know, civil registry related services or, you know, legal proof of ID as getting someone an account or something that that they can use.

So one company that kind of stands out for being founded and based in the developing world to some extent is BioRugged. Now BioRugged is based in South Africa and has been involved in legal identity providing kits for citizen enrollment in particular. But they kind of stand out in the sense that it’s one of the few that is very well established and has been working specifically on legal identity type systems.

A lot of companies that are involved in legal ID projects in the developing world but that are not these large incumbents we talked about earlier, are companies that are doing things like establishing subsidiaries or forming partnerships in different places and so among those are Tech5 and Laxton and even TrustStamp has recently opened facility through partnership in East Africa. And then you get the more, say, partner focused providers of discrete components for systems and I’m thinking in in that case of Integrated Biometrics providing fingerprint scanners used in some of these projects, and Innovatrics which has provided algorithms used for deduplicating civil registries. So some smaller firms, as you mentioned, in the humanitarian setting, also getting involved through partnerships largely, and in some cases trying to open facilities and offices a little bit closer to the governments that are contracting for these legal projects.

FRANK HERSEY: I do wonder whether we’ll see things going a little bit the other way maybe in terms of hardware, going a little bit off topic, but I know speaking to some of the firms that develop products, hardware in Africa, I know that in some ways it can be fairly extreme environments for hardware and they’re built to a very high standard and then might be pushed out in other locations around the world, which would be an interesting, you know, change in direction for some of it. But that’s straying off legal identity a little bit more. We do get drawn back into biometrics don’t we, as a team.

There is one other area of the private sector I’d like to look at and that’s the rise of identity scheme platforms which promise an end to vendor lock-in, so effectively making sure that private companies supplying part of or a whole ID scheme can be replaced. You don’t get stuck with one which might be charging ever higher fees, maintenance fees.

The whole system is meant to be plug and play. If there’s a problem with that provider, you can swap it for another, and the overall system still works. I was wondering what impact this could have on the private sector, the growth of these platforms, and is it a good thing for governments and for the individual citizen?

CHRIS BURT: Yeah, I think that it should ultimately deliver on the promise of reduced vendor lock-in, at least to some extent, and reducing vendor lock-in can do a number of things. You’re referring to, of course, MOSIP and OSIA. Kind of two different approaches, open source in the former case and open standards in the latter. They’re both basically intended to do the same thing and they can actually be used in conjunction as well, which I wonder if that might actually provide greater flexibility in the long run.

But having that flexibility means that projects that run into difficulties can be adjusted more easily and that is something that has plagued many governments, you know, in the in the developing world, among the wealthy nations, everywhere government projects run afoul of circumstances, circumstances change, et cetera. And so I think that having that flexibility makes it much more likely that governments will be able to take a system that has not gotten off the ground, you know, that has maybe achieved part of its goal, registered some of its citizens or registered enough of its citizens but not in a way that that they can fully take advantage of, give them an opportunity to actually sort of rescue those projects and and avoid spending money and getting little or nothing in return. It may also drive down costs and increase competition, we can hope, so I think that there is a real tangible benefit to governments and then by extension to citizens, I mean, if these systems work well then governments will be able to more easily plan all the basic advantages of legal ID are more easily realized, but also with cost reduction and governments can turn around and put that money to things like education that will benefit citizens as well.

So there’s a lot to potentially be gained but at the same time I think it’s important to recognize that vendor lock-in is just one of the issues, right? And increasing competition and reducing vendor lock-in is simply not going to protect anyone’s data, you know, on its own. It’s not going to ensure that the systems are fully inclusive. So there are a lot of other challenges that are related that also need to be kept in mind. So it’s important not to overstate the importance of any one initiative.

FRANK HERSEY: Yeah, and I suppose we’re struggling a bit of a line here between legal identity and foundational identity and what these platforms are actually set up to do and I was speaking recently for the podcast to OpenCRVS which is looking very much more at birth registration and possibly integrating that with MOSIP.

But definitely when Ayang and I were in Marrakesh it seemed that MOSIP was having a real moment at the ID4Africa summit, and just to recap ID4Africa is one of the major drivers in identity issues on the continent. This was the first in person meeting since 2019. Actually we were both at the 2019 one, Chris and I, in Johannesburg.

Back then MOSIP was just peering over the horizon announcing itself pretty much at that conference as an option for government. Whereas just this time in Marrakesh it seemed like the private sector was falling over itself to form partnerships with it or certify their products with MOSIP. It seemed to me that it’s creating new approaches for the private sector to be present in ID schemes by offering pre-vetted products and services and possibly stepping into other foundational ID schemes where maybe the public sector would have taken on those roles. MOSIP now has enrolled getting on for 70 million people around the world in just those first four years.

CHRIS BURT: Right, so a major impact, and maybe, potentially, a contributor to those transformative processes and the need for new approaches that we were talking about, hearing a little bit about earlier, but that also kind of brings up what legal identity is and how we look at it. We’ve already, as you mentioned, been sort of straddling the line between legal identity and foundational ID and getting drawn away from legal identity as well. But I understand that you observe some changes in the perception of legal identity at ID4Africa, so maybe you could fill that in a little bit for us.

FRANK HERSEY: Yes I think Ayang and I were perhaps a little surprised every now and again throughout the summit because it seems like the ID4Africa movement itself, so the organization and the industry players that are part of it, are moving beyond legal identity. And so they’re moving beyond legal identity as a mission and maybe as a sales opportunity to encompass digital identity and even biometrics. When we were there various different presentations in the main areas and private companies were talking a lot about identity for access to services and how individuals need to be uniquely identified for this.

I was recording the presentations really for my own note taking so the quality isn’t that great in terms of audio, but there’s a few things that I would like to play here because I think it’s worth bringing our listeners some of the messaging. So, I’ve got some clips from Thales. This is Charlotte Chateau, marketing manager for identity and biometric solutions at Thales.

CHARLOTTE CHATEAU: Identity is now more than the possibility to be identified as a citizen. It’s about having access to new services. Both online services, offline services, in your country or abroad, by public providers or private providers.

FRANK HERSEY: So she’s saying identity is about access to services, whether that’s via public or the private sector. Charlotte Chateau then links this back to SDG 16, the group of targets for peace, inclusion and strong institutions.

CHARLOTTE CHATEAU: So you can see that digital identity is fully inscribed in this role of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal number 16 about providing inclusion to all citizens.

FRANK HERSEY: I think it is worth noting there that coming from an ID firm she mentions SDG 16 as a group rather than SDG 16.9, a legal identity for all. And there’s one more clip I’d like to play, taking it onto biometrics.

CHARLOTTE CHATEAU: I would like to raise the point that biometrics is a prerequisite to establish a unique identity, a unique legal identity. The foundational identity system creates trusted legal identities, by the power of law, by application of state measures and solutions, and it’s about linking the physical world, the citizens, their bodies, and the digital world, their identity. And this is made possible by the use of biometrics.

FRANK HERSEY: So this was again in the main auditorium to delegates from across Africa. And I think it’s fascinating that there’s this linking or blurring between legal and digital and how biometrics is now necessary or necessary even for legal identity, according to Thales.

And then again from ID4Africa itself, their executive chair Dr. Joseph Atick addressed this packed out auditorium at the opening of the conference where he also moved on the mission for Africa. And Africa has a big and growing chunk of the billion plus people in the world without legal ID. So if we have a listen to this, and apologies again for the audio quality. I didn’t know it was coming, so I was only recording at that point for my own notes.

DR. JOSEPH ATICK: You need to ensure that every aspect of your governance and service delivery has a digital twin. This is why digital identity must be put in context. It enables and interacts with authentication platforms, payment systems, digital signatures, data sharing, KYC systems, consent management and sectorial delivery platforms. Effectively, it is what empowers tomorrow’s government stack ecosystem.

This implies our end goal in ID4D [for development] is not about digital identity, it is about building public infrastructure for governance and service delivery that is frictionless, robust and respectful of people’s rights and liberties – including the right to have legal identity. This is our updated objective. This is definitely more sophisticated than traditional identity management, and unless it is done right and quickly, countries will fall behind.

FRANK HERSEY: So service delivery again. ID is no longer about being identified but ID, digital ID, is part of service delivery and the digitalization of governance and legal ID is just a part of this whole thing. To me in some ways this is a departure from SDG 16.9 for a legal identity for all. But maybe Charlotte Chateau from Thales is right, that digital ID and biometrics can be considered part of the SDG16 group. Also, these goals started in 2015 and tech has moved on very quickly since then. So maybe the goals are out of date. I know a lot of people would still say that legal identity should still remain the goal, that all these other aspects can be a distraction and obviously they bring more opportunities to the private sector.

CHRIS BURT: So that raises an obvious question, given that ID4Africa explores all of these different policy questions, but it also has one of the largest and most well attended trade shows and exhibition halls in the industry.

FRANK HERSEY: I’m bringing in Ayang here, our colleague in Cameroon, Ayang Macdonald, who attended ID4Africa with me in Marrakesh. Hello, Ayang.

AYANG MACDONALD: Hello, Frank. It’s a pleasure to join you.

CHRIS BURT: Great, so Ayang, I understand that you were able to get a good look around the private sector stands in the exhibition hall at ID4Africa this year. What sort of trends did you pick up on there?

AYANG MACDONALD: Thank you, Chris. Indeed I was there and I think the private sector actually made a strong showing at the ID4Africa event recently which to me clearly demonstrates the willingness of that sector in firmly pushing ahead the legal identity agenda. It was a lively scenario and also amazing to find that there were hundreds of companies that came for the exhibition. We want to cite some of the names, you know, I saw CredenceID, Prooftag, BioRugged, Tech5, Idemia, Thales, Semlex, Veridos and Laxton. These are just a few of the many companies that were there.

So I actually made rounds at some of the stands and I saw the many innovations that the broad that were on display while some of them said some of their products were already deployed and they were used by governments or businesses, others were still in the process of being developed for deployment.

Some of them talked also about their plans to expand their presence and services to other countries where they are yet to find space in. So in summary what I can say is that there is purpose, some purpose and determination from the private companies, you know, in that quest to continue to accompany citizen identity projects and initiatives that are being executed around Africa and even the world at large.

FRANK HERSEY: Well I think we know that one of the main reasons for these companies being there, especially after this gap since the 2019 event was to sign some deals get some contracts. So I do wonder how many deals were signed there and then in Marrakesh and I suppose lots of new relations were formed and we know as well from our reporting that Cameroon has been the site for a fair bit of action for contracts and deals, maybe even some intrigue as well as action. Ayang, as our Cameroonian colleague, could you tell us a bit about the situation there as a sort of real life example of private sector contracts?

AYANG MACDONALD: Okay, thank you very much Frank, yeah, like you said, Cameroon is one of those countries that, you know, progressively expanding the digital identity space, you know, notably by making sure that they provide legal identity for their citizens.

Yeah, at the moment, I understand there is one identity project which Cameroon is embarking on and that is a project for a new generation national ID card. You know the Cameroon biometric national ID card is the main ID card in Cameroon. And it’s a very important document because citizens needed for a wide range of uses, for instance, you need an ID card to be able to obtain other ID credentials like a passport or a driver’s license. So also you require the ID to ensure that you get access to financial services, you know, from banks or other micro financial institutions.

The national ID card is such an important document for Cameroonians so much so that the government now thinks it’s important for a new national ID card project to be put in place and so they went ahead last September to launch a tender for a solution provider for the new ID card which they want to put in place and from what we understand the tender was launched and there are about 10 companies that have been able to submit their bid for the project.

I understand that some of the companies include Augentic, of course Augentic is actually present in Cameroon at the moment because they recently delivered a biometric passport project in the country. We have Thales and Idemia which are understood to be amongst those who have tendered bids for the ID card project. We have Veridos, Semlex and Zetes amongst others. So these are all private companies you know that are coming in to bid for the for the Cameroon ID card project.

FRANK HERSEY: And who’s got the contract at the moment for the existing generation of cards?

AYANG MACDONALD: Okay for the moment the new version of the Cameroon ID, which is currently in use, actually came into being in 2016 and it is being produced by the French company Thales. But since then, you know, there have been issues like I said a while ago, people have had a lot to complain about. ID cards, you know, while some of them complained that the plastic cards which are printed lack durability as they can easily break, many others say they can’t have the cards in time when they actually apply for them.

Some of them also say the wait time for the ID cards which is three months is actually too long, given the fact that you can’t use the application receipt to carry out certain transactions in the country. So all of these and many more reasons are things that are pushing the Cameroon government to look forward to a new ID card and that’s what is sparking interest from these private sector companies that most of them are known to be already big players in the citizen identity space.

FRANK HERSEY: So what’s happening? Is there a bit of a scrum, a scramble to win the contract at the moment?

AYANG MACDONALD: Yes, I think it looks like something like that. Like I said, the tender was launched last September and sources that are close to the General Delegation for National Security [DGSN], which is the ID issuing authority, say things are actually going on well, although there has been no official information from the DGSN about the passport project, sorry about the national ID card project. So there’s been no announcement of whether there’s been a bid winner or whatsoever but we have reports that there’s been some maneuvers in the background which are preventing the project from actually being executed at the moment.

But when I heard this I was able to to try to get to the DGSN to get some information about developments around the ID card project but they have been so, you know, lip tight about about it. But when we went to Marrakesh recently for the ID4Africa meeting, I met the director of the center in charge of producing ID cards at the DGSN in Cameroon, Police Commissioner Albert Djella. He was one of the delegates to the ID4Africa meeting and I asked him the question and he told me that the silence means there’s been some work going on in the background, you know, at the level of DGSN and also at other levels in the country in order to get the project going.

So he confirms to me that in the next couple of months the ID card project will be able to to be rolled out so fingers are crossed and we hope that we are going to have development about this issue very very soon.

FRANK HERSEY: Yeah there looks to have been all sorts of ins and outs and maneuvers as you said with companies complaining to the embassies of countries where other companies come from and all sorts of things going on.

AYANG MACDONALD: Yes, you’re right. The complaints are, from reports we get, the complaints are aimed at Augentic which is currently operating in the country, you know, Augentic like I said delivered the Cameroon passport project and so by dint of the fact they are well placed actually to be able to get a contract and we understand they submitted a joint bid with IN GROUPE, the French company IN GROUPE, so – but that’s not that’s not official yet.

We are waiting for for the official confirmation of all of this but I think what I can say is Augentic looks favorable because even at the level of the passport, you know, they were able to beat competition from other big names in the identity solution space and all of that. So it’s very likely that they may be the ones.

Although I spoke to the CEO via messaging up and he refused to accept whether or not they submitted a bid for the project but he said we should wait for the official information from the DGSN. So we we just have to wait.

FRANK HERSEY: There could be plenty more ups and downs before we know who’s got the contract. And then just you as an ordinary Cameroonian citizen does it matter to you that much who’s going to be producing the, your main ID document?

AYANG MACDONALD: Yes I think it’s very important because first of all, whoever happens to have that contract must be able to be able to make significant changes to what is happening now currently. Because first of all like I said there are issues about the physical quality of the current cards that are used. I actually have a broken card which which is just less than four years old and it still has about six years validity. I can’t throw it away because it would take me a lifetime to get a new a new ID card. You know, so these are some of the issues.

And then another issue is the speed of issuance. You know, whoever comes in must be able to give guarantees about how speedy they are going to deliver the cards because now Thales delivers them in three months but that’s too much time to wait for for and for a document that is that important for the citizen given that you have to use it for almost every transaction that you’re carrying along.

And then thirdly people would also be concerned about data, you know, issues, security and privacy, because since it’s biometric-based so they’re going to collect the biometrics of citizens. So they will certainly be concerned about how this personal information of theirs will be handled. So these are some of the guarantees that they have to give because at the moment, unfortunately, Cameroon doesn’t have any specific law or legislation on data protection and privacy.

Although there are provisions in different laws about you know, digital technology and all of that, there is really no specific legislation on that which is a concern for many citizens. So they will be looking out to see who who is able to keep their data safely. I think apart from that also transparency and accountability and also a provider who will not be able to charge high fees for the ID card because we understand that when the new generation of passports came to being the amount of money paid for it was increased although there was no explanation for it.

But we understood from inside sources that it was a deal that was struck between government and the company producing the passports to have the fee increased. It was not just a small increase, it was increased by more than something like $30 or more. So that’s quite a lot for ordinary Cameroonians. You know, so I think these are some of the issues that Cameroonians will be looking out to for whoever will eventually win the ID contract.

FRANK HERSEY: Yes of course, I think that is an important point to make about the price you have to pay to have this ID that you need for everything in life. We’ve seen in Côte d’Ivoire with the huge increase in fees there for their new generation of cards. I think that’s really interesting, Ayang, with the context there for legal frameworks and data protection and privacy.

Well thank you, thank you both for joining me today to take us through a look there of the private sector and its role in legal identity. So thank you. That was Chris Burt in Canada and Ayang Macdonald in Cameroon, thank you both for joining me.

AYANG MACDONALD: Thank you, Frank. It was a pleasure being on the show.

CHRIS BURT: Thank you, Frank. Thanks, Ayang.

FRANK HERSEY: We’ll be returning to some of the themes in this episode and speaking to some of the private companies and not-for-profits in the sector in due course.

In the meantime to find out more about legal identity, the UN goals and to listen to all our episodes, go to ID169.com and see if you think we’re on track for 2030.