A democracy for less than two decades, South Africa is a vibrant country with approximately 48 million citizens of all colors and creeds. To assure fair and equal access to public services for all, the government provides all citizens over the age of 16 with official identification booklet.
The booklet is based on the most secure form of personal identification ― the holder's fingerprint.
Identification booklets play an essential role in the daily lives of South Africa's citizens. Not only do they enable access to public services, they are also required for transactions ranging from buying a car to renting a video.
To obtain identification booklets, citizens must go to a branch of the Home Affairs office and submit an application form and supporting documents, and then be fingerprinted for accurate identification. As a result, the government's archive had amassed some 45 million paper files.
In the past, fingerprint authentication had to be checked manually in a time-consuming process. And with the volume of files that had to be searched continuing to grow, the Home Affairs Office felt it was time for a change.
To overcome these challenges, the government turned to a truly 21st century solution. Known as HANIS, which stands for Home Affairs National Identification System, it aims to replace the current paper system with a cutting-edge digital database and to ensure that every single new and existing fingerprint could be properly processed, verified and accessible in real time.
The government turned to NEC's award-winning Automatic Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS), with accuracy rates of more than 99.9%, one of the most cutting-edge fingerprint recognition technologies in the world.
"Every fingerprint is different. Every fingerprint has a different ridge structure. And we utilize such minutiae in matching." says Masanori Hara, Project Director of NEC Corporation.
The better the software is at recognizing such differences, the higher the accuracy of identity. AFIS also works fast, processing as many as 70,000 searches in a single working day.
Thanks to NEC's breakthrough AFIS, the HANIS project has become the largest citizen identification database in the world.
As Acting Deputy Director General for Civic Services South African Department of Home Affairs puts it: "NEC has provided us with an amazing amount of technological advancement. I use the way to describe the system we have with them as catapulted us, taken us, leapfrogged us beyond expectations."
Collaboration between NEC and local South African engineers was key to the success of the project. Queues are shorter and delays have been reduced, and the accuracy of the system dramatically reduces the possibility of the fraud and identity theft that are a growing problem in the world.
But for South Africa, this next-generation digital database platform also means something more. In the past its citizens were divided by race or belief. Today, everyone is integrated into a single digital archive, recognized through NEC technology by just one universal human feature, their fingerprint.
At NEC, we're happy that our technology is helping the government of South Africa serve its citizens, and are proud to support the spirit of freedom and national unity that defines the country today.