Uganda plans to collect, capture DNA data of citizens on new national IDs

Uganda plans to collect, capture DNA data of citizens on new national IDs
It is unclear how the government will harvest people’s DNA

Kampala, Uganda | By Uganda Parliament Media | The National Identification and Registration Authority (NIRA) will undertake a mass enrollment and renewal exercise of National Identification (ID) cards in 2023, the Minister of State for Internal Affairs, Gen. David Muhoozi said.

Gen. Muhoozi said NIRA will commence the mass enrollment exercise of National IDs in January 2023, while renewals will start in August 2023 up to August 2025, targeting 17.2 million citizens who have never been registered and 20 million Ugandans who wish to renew their National IDs.

NIRA is a government agency under the Ministry of Internal Affairs charged with the responsibility of registering and issuing identity cards to Ugandans.

According to the minister, the first batch of 15.8 million identity cards that were printed and issued in the 2014/2015 will expire between August 2024 and June 2025, thus justifying need for renewal in accordance with Regulation 19(1) of the Registration of Persons Regulations SI 67 /2015.

“Renewal will happen at each parish in a rotational manner with NIRA deploying 10 registration kits per parish per day. The exercise will happen over a 12-month period beginning August 2023. After this period, these services will be operationalised and delivered at district level,” Gen. Muhoozi said.

At parish level, 800 persons wishing to renew their IDs are expected to be served per day while 600 persons who are registering for the first time will be served.

Gen. Muhoozi was on Thursday, 12 May 2022 responding to a question raised by Wakiso District Woman MP, Betty Naluyima, on the impending expiry of national ID cards.

He said that persons who are renewing or applying for the ID for the first time will have to do so through online services. The applicant will then print a QR encoded sheet of information of the application which will be presented to a registration assistant at a parish.

“Expected outcomes of the exercise shall include…substitution of the (expiring) National ID cards upon expiry, and [their] upgrading … to a smart card [Electronic ID or EID] and creation of personal digital identity, upgrade of the verification system and integration of the Iris recognition biometric technology and DNA in the NIRA system,” the minister said.

Gen. Muhoozi said whereas the exercise will be used as a potential avenue to generate revenue, the full cost of the acquisition of a new National ID will be borne by government except for citizens who seek an express service.

Deputy Speaker Thomas Tayebwa, however, warned the minister not to make the national ID card exercise a revenue generating avenue because they have become a necessary requirement for one to attain any social and economic service.

Apparently, among other costs the government intends to charge each Ugandan wishing to renew their national ID is about Shs 50,000, a price that upset MPs.

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“When we commercialise the issuance of IDs in Uganda, then we are making it optional, because there are people who cannot even afford Shs 50,000 for a month. Parliament should allocate money to NIRA for issuance of National IDs so that we do not continue crippling Ugandans,” Bulamogi County MP, Sanon Bwiire said.

Dr Abed Bwanika, Kimaanya-Kabonera Division MP was unimpressed by government’s decision to conduct DNA profiling on each citizen who is applying for National IDs, saying it offends the citizens’ right to privacy.

“DNA profiling on National IDs is done on criminals. So why do you want to keep DNA data of the entire population which is against our right to privacy. The Minister needs to clarify on this,” he said.

Naboth Namanya, Rubabo County MP shared the same sentiment with Bwanika, saying there is a possibility of NIRA misusing the DNA databank for dubious activities when captured on National IDs.

“There are cases where somebody applies to change the name as well as the sex.  This is illegal, if NIRA staff can change the sex of a person, how sure are we that the DNA of Ugandans will not be misused?,” he said.

Bukomansimbi District Woman MP, Veronica Nanyondo urged government to operationalise regional NIRA offices and facilitate them to print National IDs in order to increase efficiency, reduce congestion and corruption at the NIRA head office located at the Kololo Ceremonial Grounds in Kampala.

Minister Muhoozi allayed MPs’ fears saying biometric system will be sufficiently done in line with the international system to the extent that it does not infringe on the right to privacy.

To improve efficiency, Muhoozi said that NIRA is looking for a new home to avoid the rampant interruptions at their office in Kololo occasioned by national activities held at the ceremonial grounds. He urged Parliament to support the Ministry to implement the project.

“This road map has been submitted to cabinet for approval and it will eventually return to Parliament for requisite funding because in this year’s Internal Affairs’ Ministerial Policy Statement, it is only captured as unfunded priorities. So, your support to the realisation of this plan is critical,” Gen. Muhoozi appealed.

How scheme of new, or replacement of National Identity (ID) cards will work

• Mass registration for the smart digital National IDs commences in January next year as the first batch of the original identification documents expire in 2024.

• Applicants will apply and input bio-data information online, which will be captured in an auto-generated QR code only readable by a NIRA machine as a means to protect personal details.  

• In parts of the country with limited or no Internet access, NIRA registration assistants will be deployed in every parish to capture the biometrics of applicants.

• They will work from Monday to Saturday every week, and it is estimated they will cover a district with 17 parishes at most within two-and-half months.

• This is based on the assumption that 10 people will be registered every hour. Applicants can check the status of their ID application by dialing *216#, or through the NIRA website.