Saturday, April 24, 2010

ID theft alert for luxury estates

24 April 2010, 08:09

By Warren Gwilt

The Department of Home Affairs is to probe whether private security companies are violating national security for profit.

Security companies are demanding ID numbers and fingerprints for access to exclusive residential estates across the country. These are then checked against a database of 53 million people that mimics government records.

The company selling this database to the security companies boasts of having worked on the national population register for the Department of Home Affairs.

And there is nothing anyone can do about it, because the security companies are exploiting a loophole in the law.

But Home Affairs is incensed and is now investigating whether national security has been breached and whether this has opened the floodgates to identity theft.

Ideco, the company that compiled the database to use with the handheld fingerprint scanners, say they have sold hundreds of the scanners and databases to various security companies across the country.

Used at the access points of residential complexes and upmarket golf estates, visitors are expected to key in their ID numbers and scan their fingerprints to verify that they are who they say they are.

The system is run from a handheld device which captures the information, which is then sent to the database to correlate the ID number with the person's name. Once the person leaves the complex, their information is allegedly erased from the device.

But by law the security company is required to keep records of everyone it scanned for up to three years.

However, if the Protection of Personal Information Bill is finalised before the World Cup - as Fifa requires - it could put a stop to it. Final deliberations on the bill are set to take place in the next few weeks.

Legal and constitutional experts say the country's current privacy laws make it difficult to defend the use of one's personal information.

But John Giles of Michalsons Attorneys said the Protection of Personal Information Bill would have a big impact. "Right now there is a black hole in the system. In the constitution, the bill of rights says everyone has a right to privacy. There are some protections but it's almost impossible to protect.

"But with the new bill, the definition of personal information includes your blood type or any other biometric information, as well as any identifying number.

"They would need to notify all 53 million people on their database and tell them how they are using the information. They should disclose where they collected the information, ask consent, and say why they collected it and what they will do with it."

Ideco, which digitised the national population register in 2006, told the Saturday Star this week that the information had been collated from personal information in the public domain.

Chief operations officer Marius Coetzee said the information had been gathered using the Companies and Intellectual Property Registration Office, Home Affairs and the Deeds Office.

"We collect our information from documents that are in the public domain. Once a document enters the public domain, anyone can access it. With the right mandate you can access anything. Personal information can be accessed if an individual has ever opened an account, borrowed money or been in an accident."

Coetzee said if a person was not recognised on their system and there was no record of them in the public domain, a record would be made and taken to Home Affairs for verification.

But Home Affairs said the department would never breach national security by engaging with any private company regarding personal ID numbers.

Senior specialist for integrity management at the department, Castro Khwela, said: "No such agreement was made with Ideco. This cannot be done. It is illegal."

Khwela said only certain organisations had access to the population register. "We are currently working with the banking sector as they are introducing a biometric system that will allow for better security."

Other than for banks and the police, Khwela said, the population register was confidential and protected, and if it was leaked, it would constitute a national security crisis. "It could lead to things like identity theft, which is already a big problem in South Africa."

Ideco has worked with Home Affairs to digitise its system and upgrade its database to make it more secure and user-friendly.

"Our IT system is protected by firewalls and spyware, I don't think it could have been breached," said Coetzee. He did however say they would contact Ideco to enquire how their database was compiled.

Constitutional law expert Pierre de Vos said that if these security firms were working on private property, as long as they applied the system without discrimination and did not profile anyone, they probably have the right to have these access controls in place.

"But it all depends where they get the info from. There are privacy issues involved. There are fears that if the information falls into the wrong hands, it could lead to identity theft."

But Dario Milo of Webber Wentzel attorneys said that if one got informed consent to obtain someone's particulars, there would be no privacy issues, and the person would not have a strong case for privacy infringement.

He added that the Protection of Personal Information Act could make it harder to obtain information.

"It is a Big Brother mentality, but it is not illegal. Until you get the bill in place, there's very little from a practical point of view that you can do.

But there is a benefit to the security system. Fritz Pauley, security building compliance manager at Blue Valley Golf Estate in Midrand, said that since they installed the system two years ago, they have had virtually no crime problems.

"Some people when they arrive are unhappy about giving their details, but accept it after being told what the system did. The system has worked more as a deterrent. People are more apprehensive to come in if they have to give their fingerprints and ID numbers," said Pauley. - Additional reporting by Candice Bailey

This article was originally published on page 1 of The Star on April 24, 2010

Saturday Star

Comments by Sonny

No wonder corruption is so rife in the ANC.

When you apply for the renewal of a firearm license, it takes two years plus to get

your fingerprints verified!

Only in SA can you clone an identity document easier than a motor car!

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