Indonesia advances world's most ambitious biometric-based national identity card project

Tampa -- You might not guess that Indonesia, a large country that's basically an archipelago of over 70,000 islands that has infrastructure issues in electricity and limited bandwidth, is the nation rolling out the world's most ambitious biometrics-based national identity card project for its citizens. But it is.

Other security news: Legal hurdles threaten to slow FBI's 'Rapid DNA' revolution

Indonesia is spending $600 million on a project to give 172 million residents a national identity card that will be used for a wide range of purposes, including proving identity for voter registration, passport issuance, tax and financial matters, and much more. This electronic national identity card , called the e-KTP, is a government effort to get millions of citizens to enroll at registration centers where their fingerprint, iris and face are captured as images through biometric equipment and personal information stored as a record associated with each electronic identity card. According to Dr. Husni Fahmi, who heads up the e-KTP project in Indonesia, the hope is all will be in place before the next election in 2014.

"It's a national ID and it's unique," said Dr. Fahmi, chief of the sub-directorate population administration, and head of the e-KTP Technical Team in the Ministry of Home Affairs in Indonesia, who gave a keynote presentation about the project yesterday at the Biometric Consortium Conference in Tampa. "We're putting out close to 8,000 cards per day. We have 18 machines running 24 hours per day, printing cards and encoding the chips." About 118 million e-KTP records of citizens are now stored in databases.

Started in 2010 by the government, the e-KPT resident identity card (in Indonesian, "Kartu Tanda Penduduk") is seen as a security measure to not only counter problems that erupted in the past around voter-fraud issues, but also to combat terrorism. "We've had terrorist attacks with attackers holding falsified documents," Dr. Fahmi mentioned in his speech.

The goal is to have eligible residents of Indonesia enrolled and with the e-KPT identity card in their hands by the 2014 election. With technology contracts and processes in place for about two years, it's been a race that involves training 72,000 operators in biometric equipment who work in at least 7,000 locations in a country that has 746 languages used by 1,128 distinct ethnic groups living in the vast island dominion of 77,088 villages. 600 supervisors try to span this vast region to make sure things are on track and being done right.

The e-KTP team decided to bring everyone it could into the project. "We trained the mayors and heads of the Parliament with standard best practices to manage the progress so they can operate it on their own," said Dr. Fahmi.

Core biometrics and hardware technology in the estimated $600 million project are being provided by a wide range of companies including HP, L-1 Identity Solutions, and Topaz Systems but the main software development is being handled by Indonesia firm Biomorf.

Dr. Fahmi pointed out that the electronic national identity card is intended to be more than just proof of identity in voting but also the foundation for validating local transactions by financial institutions in the future.

Ellen Messmer is senior editor at Network World, an IDG publication and website, where she covers news and technology trends related to information security. Twitter: MessmerE. E-mail:

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