ABU DHABI // Registration for mandatory identity cards, which can take a whole day, is to be cut to five minutes, officials pledged yesterday. The number of registration centres will also be increased so that 20,000 applicants can be processed per day instead of the present 7,000. Currently, applicants must navigate a system that requires a quick medical check-up, a visit to the immigration department and several other government offices before a card can be issued.
The changes to the system will be introduced within two weeks. "This will enhance the registration process," said Gen Ahmed al Raisi, the chairman of the Emirates Identity Authority. "Instead of going back and forth between departments, the person will go to one place only and the process will be over in five minutes. "This is also an economic project. When people have to wait for five hours to register, this hurts the business and economy. "Therefore, we want to speed things up."
Within months, mobile registration centres - which will be equipped with medical equipment to take people's blood pressure and required medical data will drive out to people who cannot travel to register, such as those in labour camps, remote areas or with special needs. The moves to improve the programme were announced at the Identity Conference 2010. "The priority is to provide national identity cards that are highly secure," said Gen al Raisi. "Right now, identity security is a global challenge as identity theft is increasing worldwide."
So far, 1.8 million nationals and expatriates have registered for the cards. "Ninety per cent of Emiratis in the UAE have registered," Gen al Raisi said. "The remaining 10 per cent are mostly underage, outside the country or older people in nursing homes." He declined to say how many expatriates had registered. Currently there are 22 registration centres and 25 preventive medicine centres. The 25 preventive medicine centres will soon serve as registration centres as well.
Registration forms are available online. Under the new scheme, they will also be available at post offices. The national ID card can be used to travel between all GCC countries except Saudi Arabia. The Government plans to combine it with the driving licence and the labour card. "This requires a lot of time and changes in the infrastructure, because to have the ID card serve as a driver's licence we need to link it to police databases," said Gen al Raisi.
By May, the authority will receive about 175,000 new cards with a swipe feature, eliminating the need to insert the cards into a machine to be read. The swipe cards are faster and can hold more data. Holders of the older cards will be able to get the new swipe cards when they renew them. Nationals renew their cards every five years. Residents renew each time their residency visa expires. There are plans to add features to the ID cards, such as a so-called e-purse, an electronic signature and a Metro fare-paying facility.
Jacques Seneca, the president of security business for Gemalto, the company supplying the cards, said a pilot programme would be carried out by the end of the year to add a so-called e-purse to the card. It would allow the card holder to add cash credits to the card and make payments without having a bank account. Gemalto is in talks to determine which bank would carry out the initial phase of the project, Mr Seneca said. The second phase would include the rest of the country's banks.
On the sidelines of the conference, international officials offered their expertise. Magnar Aukrust, the deputy director general of Norway's ministry of justice, said the main challenges in introducing national ID cards were encouraging people to register and maintaining security. More than 20 countries took part in the two-day conference, presenting their experiences and the latest smart card technologies.
"This conference has become a great place to discuss and exchange expertise which will help us in adopting the best secure digital methods," said Gen al Raisi.