‘Smarter’ National ID Cards in the Pipeline

By San Yamin Aung 20 September 2013

Government plans to substitute the current paper National Registration Card issued to Burmese citizens with a “smarter” digital identification card remain on the books, but cost concerns and the nation’s underdeveloped infrastructure are holding back a rollout.

Tin Chil, a director at the Ministry of Immigration and Population (MIP), told The Irrawaddy on Thursday that foreign companies from Thailand, Japan, China and Korea were in talks with the Burmese government about the plan.

“The current citizenship scrutiny card was issued according to the Myanmar Citizenship Law, which was enacted in 1982 and really needs a replacement in line with international standards,” he said.

He added that MIP Minister Khin Yi was eager to implement the plan but remained mindful of budget constraints and logistical considerations such as the country’s notoriously slow Internet connections and unreliable electricity, which would hamper nationwide issuance of the cards. Affordability for the average citizen is also a concern in one of Asia’s most impoverished nations.

“We need to consider those who cannot afford the current citizenship scrutiny card, which only costs about six kyats [less than 1 US cent, not including photo costs],” he said, adding that a smart card would cost at least US$1 (about 1,000 kyats).

National Registration Cards, also known as citizenship scrutiny cards, are issued to Burmese nationals by MIP’s Immigration and National Registration Department. A special committee was formed in 2011 to issue the cards and household registration certificates under the Moe Pwint (“snowflakes” in the Burmese language) Project, which aimed to accelerate issuances to the country’s poorly documented citizenry.

According to MIP data, nearly 487,000 household registration certificates and about 3.5 million National Registration Cards were issued through May of this year under the Moe Pwint Project.

The current national registration card, printed on pink paper, includes the holder’s photo, signature, a fingerprint of the left thumb and other personal data.

“This ID card is easily damaged because it is made of paper and it is not made with secure technology so it is difficult to check whether it is valid or not. So it is really necessary to change to a smart card,” 20-year-old Burmese national Aye Thandar said while holding her flimsy ID card.