Concerns Raised as Uganda Plans DNA Upgrade for Biometric ID Cards

Uganda’s next digital national ID card will add DNA biometrics to improve identity verification for service delivery, according to Kenyan news site Tuko. The documents already display the face and store fingerprint biometrics of the owner.

Tuko reports that General David Muhoozi, the minister for internal affairs, informed the Ugandan parliament that there are plans to issue “smart digital” IDs that use DNA when current 10-year biometric IDs expire in 2024, according to Tuko.

Muhoozi said that new features including DNA biometrics are being added to “increase portability and verification to support global transactions,” while improving accuracy and the credibility of the credential for the planning and delivery of services.

However, the cost of the DNA national ID may have to come out of the Ugandan governments’ coffers exclusively, as Muhoozi said the program would not be offered for free and was potentially a revenue generator. The existing document is paid for with taxes.

That idea drew criticism from Parliament Deputy Speaker Thomas Tayebwa, who said Ugandans should not have to pay for the national ID directly.

Indeed, Member of Parliament Rose Obiga has said that acquiring the national IDs has already been a challenge for Ugandans. Having to pay will hit poorer citizens hardest and generate resistance.

While Uganda is ahead of some nations in creating programs for biometric passports, driving licenses and similar identity documents, implementation is another story.

Recent reports indicate that there is a backlog of applications for biometric passports causing travel delays and cancelations. Also, a coalition of civil society organizations has sued the Ugandan government for allegedly creating a barrier for women and seniors with the national ID.

Alternative path suggested

On another front, a Monitor editorial asks: “Why now? Does the data the government has been collecting on a regular basis on multiple platforms not suffice?”

The piece accuses the government of demanding more data on top of information from passports, voter registries, schools and village chairpersons, all the while demonstrating a data deficit for criminal investigations.

It goes further, suggesting that fingerprint biometrics should be enough and are already collected, and fingerprints are easier to gather and store than DNA samples.

Money could better be spent corroborating and cleaning data in government stores today. The national ID database is rife with spelling errors, incorrect birth dates and wrong residence addresses.

There has to be a balance, according to the Monitor, between Article 27 of the Ugandan Constitution, which protects citizens’ right to privacy and Section 7 of the Data Protection and Privacy Act of 2019, which gives the government the power to collect citizens’ data for certain public duties, including national security and health care.