Following a prolonged process, the South African Department of Home Affairs (DHA) has delivered on its promise to provide secure, electronic passports, ITWeb reports.
From today, South Africans applying for a new passport or renewing their current one, will receive the new document with improved security features.
Siobhan McCarthy, DHA spokeswoman, says the entire process – from the technology, to setting up the facility and training local staff – has cost the department R500 million.
According to McCarthy, the project was bound to be a lengthy one. “Research and development alone took us four years.”
McCarthy says the change was due to Home Affairs’ need to comply with international regulations and also formed part of the DHA’s turnaround strategy.
The department received directives to introduce secure passports after the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) issued new passport standards following the 11 September terror attacks in 2001.
Government previously stated secure passports would be introduced by 2007 – but failed to meet that deadline.
In February, the British High Commission announced South Africans would require visas with their passports to enter the country. This followed reports of high incidences of South African passport and ID-document fraud locally and abroad – resulting in a call for security measures to be incorporated into these documents.
In line with the recent ICAO security standard, the new passports use biometric technology to authenticate travellers’ identity. Critical information is stored on a tiny RFID computer chip, much like information stored on smart cards.
Like some smart cards, the passport book design calls for an embedded contactless chip that holds a digital signature data to ensure the integrity of the passport and the biometric data.
For the first time, passports will be assembled and printed in SA, McCarthy points out. Previously, the process happened overseas.
According to her, there are three levels of security features on the new passports. The first layer consists of seven layers of polycarbonate paper – each embedded with a security feature. Also, the principal photo of the passport-holder will be laser engraved into the passport.
The second security level lies in the secondary photograph and the microscopic lettering used to engrave the holder’s biographical data. There will also be a security background depicting the Big Five. Each page would have a specific DNA and include a watermark.
Other security features include interlocking stitching and passport numbers, which will be punched through the top of all pages – making any tampering difficult. The identity of passport applicants would be confirmed through the department’s online fingerprint verification system