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Tariq Malik
Sunday, November 11, 2012
From Print Edition
 
 

 

KARACHI: The Wright Brothers may be the fathers of the modern aircraft but they were not the first to come up with the idea of flight. References and fantasies about flying go as far back as man himself. The Chinese had figured kites and hot air balloons out as early as the 3rd Century BC. In Greek mythology, Daedalus, an Athenian craftsman, fabricated wings for himself and his son, Icarus, to escape from Crete. Legend has it that the wax holding Icarus’ wings melted and he fell into the sea, which was subsequently named after him. Abbas Ibn Firnas, the Muslim Andalusian inventor, is said to have hurt his back while landing as he did not construct a tail for himself for balancing. In our subcontinent’s fables, Jatayu and Sampati are depicted as demi-gods with wings. Manuscripts for flying machines were developed by Leonardo da Vinci as early as the 15th Century.

 

But the Wright Brothers are still celebrated for being the pioneers of modern flight, and in my opinion, rightly so. It is expedient to dream, but assiduous and perhaps, seemingly impossible, to turn great ideas into reality.

 

Many external circumstances enabled the Wright Glider to fly. Steam-powered engines had evolved the requisite horsepower needed to defy gravity. Many engineers and designers had put in decades of work studying the various key components of design of an aircraft and many manuscripts were available for scrutiny. What separated the Wright Brothers from their other contemporaries and is to their credit, was their methodological approach, an accurately calculated design in accordance with the known flight-principles, and most importantly, hours and hours of hard work and dedication.

 

I find the National Database and Registration Authority (Nadra) to be in a similar predicament as of the Wright Brothers years before the flight. Nadra has launched, what it believes to be, a revolutionary product, the Smart National Identity Card (SNIC). The SNIC is a chip-based identity document which will provide unprecedented security and convenience to citizens and will eventually be the only card a Pakistani will ever need.

 

Registration of Pakistani citizens and collection of data was started in 1973 by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. In a cabinet proceeding he stated that “due to the absence of full statistical data of the people of this country, this country is operating in utter darkness.” With the creation of Nadra, a database of citizens was set up in 2000. Today, I would like to reposition the organisation into a body that not only registers and maintains a database of its citizens but also acts as an enabler of services to Pakistanis.

 

The SNIC became a logical culmination of the previous work done by Nadra and the needs of the country. Firstly, very limited new security features can be added to the existing ID card. While nobody can perfectly replicate a Nadra-issued CNIC, it is also true that many forged photocopies have been used for fraud. Secondly, the current ID card does not allow for remote verification of a citizen. Anyone who may have acquired my identity card, and also somewhat resembles me, may use it for many types of misuse such as entry into restricted areas or voting on my behalf. Thirdly, the current ID card does not allow for storage of information or authorised modification.

 

In order to address the security concerns, we have incorporated 36 security features in the physical design of the SNIC, making it one of the securest cards in the world. The card is printed in multiple layers; each layer has its own security features. The chip is encrypted by extremely competent software developers at Nadra and secure communication protocols have been determined for being read by remote devices.

 

To enable remote verification of citizens a match-on-card applet has been designed by Nadra. When a citizen places their SNIC into a card reader the reader will first authenticate itself to the card. In return the card will verify its authenticity to the reader. If both the verifications are successful, the device will ask for a finger print impression of the citizen and match it with the record on the card. This will enable verifications of individuals in the remotest parts of Pakistan. So say in a decade when an individual casts a vote, the government may ascertain that the person casting the vote is indeed the same as the one on the electoral roll. This is only one of the thousands of scenarios of identity fraud prevention that the card empowers.

 

A majority of the space in the chip has been made available for the private sector to use for their products and services. It might appear expensive for the private sector to use this card initially but once the number of citizens having a critical mass is reached, it will be more profitable for the private sector to use this secure and universal platform.

 

Eventually, every citizen will have the option of using their SNIC as their main identity instrument, as their driving license, school card, hospital card, card for gym membership and numerous other facilities. We have made the card compliant with International Civil Aviation Organization’s (ICAO) requirements for a machine-readable travel document and this card can eventually be used as a passport.

 

The universal platform is important as some citizens are denied essential services; it is simply not profitable for private companies to expand their service platform to underprivileged areas. A government must intervene when vital rights of citizens are denied because of economic conditions. And the government has successfully done so in the past. One example is of branchless banking where the State Bank provided relaxed rules for transactions and Nadra provided the identity card document and verification services as a proxy for bank registration. In the absence of either, the branchless boom in Pakistan would not have happened.

 

There is no risk of misuse at the loss of this singular card as biometric authentication is required for important transactions. A citizen may keep multiple cards at home and can start using a new one if the previous one is lost. Keeping in mind the privacy of citizens, the card has been designed not to store additional personal information without the authorisation of the citizen.

 

The smart card has been launched in some Nadra centers across the country. Whether we’ll have the same fate as the successful Wright Brothers or the failed Icarus will depend on how involved the citizens are in the process of rolling out of the card. As a responsible government organisation we actively respond to feedback and suggestions from citizens and I urge all of you to learn more about the card and help us bring in services according to your needs.

 

The writer is Nadra chairman