Oman an early adopter
Bordering Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates to the west, Oman’s eID program dates back to 2002 when government officials were seeking a means to modernize its national registry and pave the way for eGovernment services. The country selected Gemalto as its partner on the project, and with its official deployment in 2004, the Omani eID credential became one of the first smart card-based eGovernment systems in the Middle East.
With a population of roughly 2.9 million, Oman first had to establish a central population registry using data collected from disparate databases. Next it needed to link that data to twelve enrollment and issuance centers spread across the country. The Sultanate of Oman and the Royal Omani Police spearheaded the project.
The Royal Police was tasked with selecting an eID credential that was versatile and open enough to enable future upgrades, so that the document had a sufficient lifespan and would not need to be reissued every time a citizen’s personal data changed.
The card provides secure access to three main applications – identity, driver license and border control. Oman’s citizens and residents securely store their personal credentials on the cards, including name, address, digital photo and fingerprints. The eID’s Java Card operating system provides the ability to accommodate future applications down the road.
The inclusion of biometrics in Oman’s eID cards enables verification by portable terminals and automatic electronic validation at places like airport immigration checkpoints, among others.
At the same time that Oman was pursuing its eID program, Saudi Arabia was laying the groundwork for one of its own. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia selected a credential based on HID Global’s LaserCard optical media.
In 2004, HID Global was also selected to manage the implementation of a new distributed card issuance system in 20 cities for phase one of Saudi Arabia’s program. In addition to writing the card management and personalization software, HID designed, integrated and installed 60 card personalization systems, trained local operators and provided ongoing operational support.
The card itself features two machine-readable technologies in the form of optical security media and a contact IC chip.
The optical media stores a high-resolution color portrait of the cardholder, their demographic information and a fingerprint template for automatic identity verification. The optical media also incorporates layered, visible authentication and security features to support reliable in-person document examination.
The contact chip uses the MULTOS smart card operating system to manage Public Key Infrastructure transactions and stored demographic data.
The card’s 2.86-megabyte optical stripe has more than adequate capacity to hold all required demographic and biometric information and can be updated over time as needed.
eID in the future
The Middle East makes up for its comparably smaller issuance numbers with a host of advanced, mature eID implementations that are on par with some of the world’s leading programs. Middle Eastern countries also show that the world isn’t just now coming around to eID credentials, but rather has been testing the waters for a decade or longer.
Despite the odd holdouts, the future of national ID in the region undoubtedly belongs to the eID, with some forward-thinking countries already experimenting with mobile ID. These credentials offer the ability for citizens the world over to prove their identity as they travel across national borders as well as enable access to a myriad of valuable eGovernment services.