The arrival of e-Smart Cards in Africa

  • February 12, 2017

The meaning of the word “Smart” has evolved with the inception and spread of an array of smartphones in the world. Since the first true smartphone, made in 1992 by the Simone Personal Communicator, the man has not looked back as far as innovations in digital technology are concerned. Fast forward to the present – from online shopping, to the payment of utility bills, to buying groceries, digital technology has slowly but steadily peeped into every single imaginable aspect of human life.

Digital technology added another feather to its crown when in 1977 Michel Ugon invented the first microprocessor smart card. In layperson terms, a “Smart Card” or an e-Smart Card is any pocketsized card embedded with integrated circuits that has all the user information stored in a digital format. It is a tool, which uses biometric verification and serves the primary purpose of distinguishing between one person’s identity with another. In a nutshell, an e-smart card is your digital identity proof.

But what was the need to have such a digital identity proof in the first place? One immediate reason for the use of such an authentication tool especially in Africa arises in view of surge in terrorist activities in the continent. The terrorist use fake identities to send and receive money and to carry out other operational activities not only in Africa but through out the world. A robust identity proof tool can no doubt reduce, if not eliminate, the ongoing extremist activities by pinpointing a person who attempts to use a fake identity.

What is the need of using a Smart Card?

Across the world, a Smart Card is being extensively used in practically every sector that a human being has access to such as banking, real estate, retail, education and the like. However, Africa has yet to discover the full potential of the Smart Card revolution. Even today, a number of countries rely on maintaining manual records in most of the sectors. However, one knows that to err is human and these manual records too cannot be hundred percent secure. In addition, maintaining manual records come with the burden of high cost, difficulty in accessing those records which have not been used in a long time and the complications involved because of fragmentation of data. Moreover, the quality of manual records may not be persistent at all the places.

Their authentication can always be questioned given how rampant corruption is in the society. In such a scenario, it is essential to replace the practice of manual records with a more robust and reliable approach. And as they say, “Necessity is the mother of invention,” the e-Smart Card technology has finally found its way into Africa, moving the continent a step forward towards embracing the worldacknowledged concept of going digital.

Benefits of using a Smart Card

When a health emergency arises, one hardly is in a state of mind to gather all the previous records of medical documents of the concerned person. As there is an emergency to provide the patient with immediate medical aid; lest a life-changing event may occur. Amidst all this, what happens if you forget to carry an important past health record of the patient to the hospital? The staff may even refuse to begin the treatment of the patient. Now consider this. The next time you visit a hospital, all the information regarding your medical history is stored in that one card.

Smart cards help you to get access to your benefits and information conveniently anywhere and anytime, without compromising on your privacy and security at a low cost. They are accountable, a trait not many human being possess, time-saving, user-friendly, versatile and scalable. The Smart Card technology is replacing manual functions because of many reasons; one of them being the “no hassle” approach. Contrary to the belief that this technology requires cumbersome procedures, the working of smart card registration is as easy as its usage. A laptop, a finger-print scanner, a card and receipt printing machine, a web-cam and a software program is all the equipment that one needs for the process of enrolment, storage and access of user information.

Across the world, a Smart Card is being extensively used in practically every sector that human beings have access to such as banking, real estate, retail, education and the like. However, Africa is yet to discover the full potential of the Smart Card revolution.

The smart card tool delivers uniqueness as it makes distinction between individuals; permanence as it provides resistance to ageing; collectability as it is easy to obtain a biometric for measurement; speed and accuracy as there is a negligible chance of misinterpretation; less human interference ensuring high quality performance and the degree of approval of technology that enhances acceptability.

What makes a smart card so reliable?

No two fingerprints can ever match and neither two different people can have completely identical voices. That is why the

use of biometrics, a technological system that employs unique biological traits (such as fingerprints and iris) about a person to identify him/her, is the soul of a smart card. The following are some physical biometric methods that are utilised during enrolment and comparison of the users’ data:

Fingerprint recognition:Fingerprint recognition is the most commonly used and familiar biometric methods where a template is extracted from the biometric sample collected at the time of enrolment. This extracted template is stored and later used for comparison.

Face Recognition: In face recognition, when you input a face image, the features of the face are extracted from the image and compared with the data available at the online server. If the extracted features fail to match with the databases’ information, a negative result is displayed.

Voice Recognition: A relatively new biometric method is voice recognition, where a person’s voice is recorded and stored at the time of enrolment. This stored data is later used as a voice reference template for comparison. It is the identification that uses acoustic features to differentiate between the speeches of one individual from another.

Iris recognition: When you input a face image, the eye regions are detected and the iris patterns are recognised. Based on whether the input information matches the stored data or not, the input is accepted or rejected.

Applications of Smart Card: A smart card is a wonderful solution that finds its use in all governmental and nongovernmental organisations. Smart cards can be used in commercial applications including e-commerce, banking and finance, allowance management, for preserving student data-base records, internet access and medical record management.

Government applications can make use of the smart card as a National Identification card, for border and passport control, driving license and the like. The fact that a Smart card can find its use in sensitive forensic applications such as criminal investigation and terrorist identification only cements its reliability and accountability.

Future Prospects: An e-smart card is being considered as one of the most promising and life-changing technological solutions in existence today because of the multi-functionality and authenticity it offers. Moreover, when everyone in the world is unique, why not use this uniqueness for authentication. If you appreciate your time and individuality, then an e-smart card is sure to become your ultimate companion for life

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