Government Working on Developing a National Identification System for Citizen Benefit

Government Working on Developing a National Identification System for Citizen Benefit

The Government of Belize is looking to conclude its research and consultation phase to develop a National Identification System. The idea behind the system is multi-faceted and would benefit the identity protection of all citizens and the investigative work of all law-enforcement agencies, among other advantages. The system seeks to improve access to human rights, services, and services, such as applying for a passport, opening a bank account, and accessing health services. Chief Executive Officer in the Ministry of E-Governance, Jose Urbina, spoke about how his ministry is firstly working to draft a National Biometric Strategy and Action Plan that will establish the required framework.

Jose Urbina, CEO, Ministry of Public Utilities, Energy, E-Governance: “Now we must also be cognizant that the national biometric strategy and action plan is not an action plan on its own but it also plays a pivotal role when we discuss the national ID that we’re working diligently towards. So the ultimate objective is really to have a national ID in country with all the safeguards and features that entails in capturing biometric data. When we speak about biometric data it includes both. It includes fingerprint, facial scans, sometimes your eye can be used as a biometric trait of an individual also. So it doesn’t limit what will be used but when we speak about biometric information, it’s holistic. Any biometric data that can be used to identify an individual is being considered as part of the strategy. When we look at how, and you use a great example as it relates to passport, when we apply for a passport or when we renew a passport, your biometric data is required. Even when you visit a police station for whatever reason your biometric data is captured. So there are already entities within the public service or within government that is already capturing biometric data and even when we look at the private sector right now when you want to access some offices you really need to scan your fingerprint to get access to enter your workspace. So that is biometric data also. And in some cases I’ve seen in the private sector that they’re using, they’re scanning your facial features for you to access particular areas within those offices. So biometric data is already being captured in country, both in the private and the public sector. So now how do we regulate? What policies do we need to put in place to protect that data, which is of utmost importance from a policy standpoint here at the ministry? We want to continue having stakeholder engagement. I think that is very important to ensure that we have buy-in from all stakeholders within the sector especially within the technology sector in Belize and especially within the public sector. So we are targeting to have the stakeholder engagement completed by March of this year and then from there the final report will be submitted to us for review and of course to be able to action the action plan. We must also highlight that any action plan comes with a budgetary requirement, right? So we need to look at the budget that is required and also link, as I mentioned before, with the national ID and how we roll out the national ID. Now I can say that National ID is a bigger project that is fundamental towards digitizing of services within countries.”

Urbina further added that while the ministry has not secured funding for the project’s implementation, several international agencies have expressed in working with the government for its completion. 

Jose Urbina, CEO, Ministry of Public Utilities, Energy, E-Governance: “We still are engaging international financial institutions. Of course as a government we want to ensure that we get value in terms of low-cost funding, concessional funding, and even seeking grant funding. We don’t have an exact figure. We still continue working in trying to identify what is the total value for implementation of the national ID? As I mentioned, that’s the ultimate goal as it relates to the biometric strategy. And of course we will ensure that there is collaboration with stakeholders such as the Social Security Board to ensure that we are able to use their infrastructure to capture biometric data and also How do we share existing biometric data within the public sector to be able to begin the database? So what I’m trying to say is that we might not need to capture everyone’s biometric data because there is some biometric data already stored in some databases so we can complement each other in that form. As I mentioned I would love to have been able to give you a figure but as it relates to any national deployment, especially when it deals with technology implementation it is quite costly, I can say that. And there’s still some decisions that need to be made in terms of do we use a distributed architecture versus a centralized architecture? And what I mean by that is do we have one data warehousing data center in the country that then captures from or pulls data from all the other data centers in country. So there are still some policy decisions being worked on. And because of those policy decisions that are still pending I’m unable to put a dollar figure on the project. But yes, I can say that there are some IFIs that are very interested. There are some partners within the UN entities that are very interested in funding some of these projects.”

Just this week, Cabinet was apprised of the National Biometric Strategy and Action Plan to build a robust biometrics framework, with the implementation of a subsequent National ID System.

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