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South Africa’s plan to capture babies’ biometric data raises privacy fears

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Digital rights groups are warning that plans to photograph and fingerprint every baby born in South Africa for a digital register could lead to data leaks and identity theft in the absence of robust safeguards.

The Department of Home Affairs’ new draft policy aims to capture detailed biometrics – unique physical traits – of every child born in South Africa and link this data to parents’ identity numbers, which are printed on all ID documents.

The government hopes the proposed new registration system will prevent corrupt officials from selling birth certificates to foreigners to illegally secure South African citizenship and protect children who otherwise risk going undocumented.

Murray Hunter, a South African digital rights activist who authored Boris the BabyBot, a children’s book about surveillance, was skeptical that biometrics can solve identity management issues.

“Can it truly be that the only solution (to identity theft) is not to root out corrupt officials, but to create massive databases of every child’s face, fingerprints, and other biometric info?”

Some 1 million babies born in SA annually not registered

About one in 10 of some 1 million babies born in South Africa each year are not registered at birth, government data shows, Reuters Foundation News reported.

Without birth certificates, they risk exclusion from school and health care and denial of citizenship.

Under the proposed policy, all children – including those whose parents are migrants or stateless (meaning no country recognizes them as citizens) – will be issued a digital number, although, it must be highlighted, this would not translate into automatic citizenship.

“Governments need to have digital registers of their population to deliver services,” said Joseph Atick, executive chairman of ID4Africa, a charity that promotes online identity records across Africa.

“(But) the threat to privacy is real. That is why we promote the development of data protection and privacy laws and frameworks before embracing digital identity.”

South Africa’s Protection of Personal Information Act, passed in 2013, aims to protect private data held by the government, businesses, and individuals from security breaches, theft, and misuse, but, as Reuters Foundation News reports, key elements of the legislation have yet to be enacted.

Abuse

About 1 billion people globally lack identity proofs, which are often vital to access welfare payments, open businesses, obtain mobile phone lines, and vote, according to the World Bank, which is backing efforts to roll out digital IDs worldwide.

Advanced biometric systems are already in use in countries such as India, Bangladesh and Pakistan, linking fingerprints and iris scans to a unique identity number.

Also on thesouthafrican.com: Birth certificate visa requirements for entry into South Africa updated

Currently, South Africans apply for a digital ID number at the age of 16, and their photos and fingerprints are taken.

The proposed policy is open for public comment until Feb. 28, after which it will be formulated into a bill.

Official Identity Management Policy

In November 2020, the government published the Official Identity Management Policy for public comment.

Minister in the Presidency, Jackson Mthembu, said at the time that the policy proposes a number of changes to existing legislation including the Identification Act and Alteration of Sex Description and Sex Status Act, to align them with the Constitution and the Protection of Personal Information Act.

“It will integrate the current systems into a biometric-enabled National Identity System. The new proposed population register will form the basis of an official e-identity which will serve as the backbone of state and private digital platforms.”

In June 2019, International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO) Minister, Naledi Pandor, said government was working on a new ID system that will provide a single source of information about all clients, using “both biographic and biometric technologies.”

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Israel floods farmlands with rainwater in eastern Gaza

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The Palestinian Ministry of Agriculture announced on Thursday that Israel had vented its dams for rainwater harvesting, leading to the flooding of farmlands near the Gaza Strip’s eastern borders and the destruction of vast agricultural areas.

Israel has built several dams to collect and use rainwater and vents it without warning when large quantities of water accumulate during the winter, causing damage to the Gaza Strip’s farm and agricultural lands.

Ahmed Fatayer, director of the ministry’s branch in Gaza, disclosed that Israel: “Has opened the rainwater dams east of the Shuja’iyya neighbourhood in the east of the Gaza Strip, which led to flooding hundreds of dunams of agricultural land.”

In an exclusive interview with Anadolu Agency, Fatayer indicated that Palestinian farmers have suffered “great losses and direct and indirect damage” due to the sudden venting of dams.

He pointed out that Israel has been venting the dams and flooding agricultural land belonging to Palestinian citizens in recent years.

READ: Israeli forces demolish Al-Araqib village for 182nd time

Salem Quta, one of the affected farmers, conveyed that the Palestinian landowners have suffered significant losses due to the flooding of their agricultural areas.

“About 400 dunams (one dunam equals 1,000 metres) were directly flooded with water, while 150 dunams were indirectly damaged by the flow of rainwater,” Quta told Anadolu Agency.

The farmer explained that the flooding of agricultural lands occurred when the crops he was growing during recent months were about to ripen.

Quta confirmed that in addition to flooding agricultural areas, Israel also: “Sprays chemical pesticides on the crops, which ends up destroying them, in addition to clearing the land.”

He called on human rights organisations and institutions to stand with the Palestinian farmers and support them to resist these violations.

READ: MEMO in conversation with Professor Rashid Khalidi

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Weather forecast, alerts and UVB index for all South African provinces, 22 January 2021

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Weather data provided by the South African Weather Service. For a detailed forecast of your province, click here.

Severe Weather Alerts

IMPACT-BASED WARNINGS:

  1. Yellow level 2: For severe thunderstorms with heavy downpours, gusty winds, hail and excessive lightning resulting in localized damages to settlements formal/informal, vehicles and a short-term disruption to power over eastern interior of the Eastern Cape.

FIRE DANGER WARNINGS:

  1. Extremely high fire danger conditions are expected over the western and central interior of the Western Cape and southern parts of Namakwa District of the Northern Cape.

ADVISORIES:

  1. Extremely hot conditions are expected over Khai-Ma in the Norther Cape, Central Karoo District as well as Langeberg Municipality in the Western Cape tomorrow.
  2. A heat wave with persistently high temperatures is expected over the Matzikama Municipality and the southern parts of Namakwa Districts in the Northern Cape until tomorrow but over the central and the eastern interior of the Western Cape Province, and western and northern interior of the Eastern Cape until Saturday (21-23/01/2021).

Gauteng:

Temperature: Partly cloudy and hot.

The expected UVB Sunburn Index: Moderate.

Mpumalanga:

Temperature: Morning fog patches over the escarpment, otherwise partly cloudy and warm.

Limpopo:

Temperature: Partly cloudy and warm to hot.

North-West Province:

Temperature: Fine and warm to hot, becoming partly cloudy with isolated showers and thundershowers, except in the north east.

Free State:

Temperature: Fine in the east at first, otherwise partly cloudy and warm to hot with isolated showers and thundershowers, except in the extreme east.

Northern Cape:

Temperature: Partly cloudy and hot to very hot with isolated showers and thundershowers in the central and eastern parts. It will be extremely hot in the south

Wind: The wind along the coast will be moderate to fresh southerly to south-westerly.

Western Cape:

Temperature: Cloudy with morning fog along the south coast at first, otherwise fine and warm along the coastal areas, but hot to very hot over the western interior and extremely hot over the central and eastern interior.

Wind: The wind along the coast will be moderate easterly along the south coast in the morning, otherwise fresh to strong south-easterly.

The expected UVB Sunburn Index: High.

Eastern Cape:

The Western halfTemperature: Cloudy and warm with morning fog in places in the south, otherwise partly cloudy and hot to very hot with isolated thunderstorms over the north east.

The Western Half – Wind: The wind along the coast will be Moderate to fresh south easterly, reaching strong east of Port Elizabeth in the afternoon.

The Eastern halfTemperature: Cloudy and warm with morning fog south of the escarpment, otherwise partly cloudy and hot with isolated thunderstorms over the interior from the afternoon.

The Eastern halfWind: The wind along the coast will be moderate to fresh north easterly, reaching strong in the evening.

Kwazulu-Natal:

Temperature: Morning fog over the interior, otherwise partly cloudy and warm, but hot in places in the north. Afternoon isolated showers and thundershowers are expected in the south western parts.

Wind: The wind along the coast will be Moderate northerly to north-easterly in the morning, becoming fresh.

The expected UVB Sunburn Index: Extreme.


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