Get smart

Governments everywhere are looking to provide e-services for residents and the Middle East is at the front of this technological transformation. Brid-Aine Conway talks to Qatar's Ministry of Interior about its latest innovation - the e-ID.

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By  Brid-Aine Conway Published  December 3, 2007

The Middle East is renowned for its rapid embrace of technology and nowhere is this more evident than in the spread of e-government throughout the region. E-government is being rapidly adopted and deployed all over the GCC in the form of e-portals, e-services and of course, e-ID smartcards.

Qatar recently launched its newest form of e-ID, referred to as QID, which provides identification through biometrics and public key infrastructure (PKI). PKI is an arrangement that binds public keys with respective user identities by means of a certificate authority (CA). For each user, the user identity, the public key, their binding, validity conditions and other attributes are made unforgeable in public key certificates issued by the CA. It can also be used as an e-gate card at airports.

Our strategy is to have one database for the residents of Qatar. So whatever application we have developed or are going to develop will be based on that database and technology.

"We call it a three-in-one card because we have included e-gate and the PKI as well as ID. These two services are optional for the citizen. Plus, this project includes biometric data which is facial, iris and fingerprint, so in the long run, once we have a stable technology and we mature, our vision is to provide services for individuals using their biometrics on top of the PKI to make sure that whoever is asking for the service is the one whose ID it is," says Colonel Salah K Alkubaisi, the director of the information system department at the Ministry of Interior in Qatar.

Right now, the QID is being rolled out only as a replacement card for the old ID card, with the old card remaining a valid ID. Because Qatar already had a residents' database for the old ID card, many of the challenges associated with this kind of implementation were avoided. However, the old systems presented a new challenge in integration.

"There were two types of challenge; those related to the process and the business side and the technical issues. The technical issues that we faced were the integration part of it, we had some legacy systems and we had to do a lot of work to overcome these issues. Now, we come to the business part of it because now there's a totally new process for national ID. So we had to train people, show them how to do it gradually, and for the residents, especially those asking for PKI or e-gate, we have to show them how to activate these features within the card," Alkubaisi explains.

Prior to these challenges, the Ministry also wanted to ensure it had done adequate research on the project before looking for vendors.

"It took some time to investigate the information about smart cards because it was a new technology at the time. We had to wait a little bit to make sure the technology was stable and there would be no problems because this was a major project for us. We signed a contract last year and it took it us 18 months to do the implementation," says Alkubaisi.

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