RANGOON — The Burmese government began a pilot project substituting paper National Registration Cards with “smarter” digital identification cards in Arakan State’s Buthidaung Township on Tuesday.
The project is also expected to be initiated in upcoming days in Maungdaw Township. Both Maungdaw and Buthidaung townships have been home to conflict in recent months, after Oct. 9 attacks on police outposts and a subsequent “clearance operation” by the Burma Army in northern Maungdaw.
A staff member from the Ministry of Labor, Immigration and Population told The Irrawaddy that the project started on Jan. 9 in the Arakan State capital of Sittwe.
In order to carry out initiative, immigration officers record citizens’ fingerprints, eye scans, and take a photo of each individual, according to the ministry.
“Everyone from those areas, whether or not they have National Registration Cards (NRCs), can be recorded in the pilot project,” he added, a reference to the largely stateless Muslim population in the region.
U Aung Win, a Muslim Rohingya from Sittwe, told The Irrawaddy that he had “no expectations” for the pilot project, adding that it was not being implemented in areas home to displaced communities.
The government began conducting the pilot project in December in Naypyidaw and Mandalay and in early January in Rangoon.
The personal data from more than 3,400 people from Pobbathiri Township in Naypyidaw, 3,500 people from Chanayethazan Township in Mandalay, and 1,500 in Rangoon’s Insein Township has been collected.
An officer from the immigration department in Naypyidaw said that the pilot project would inform the government of the “pros and cons” of the “smart” cards before making an official switch.
Minister U Thein Swe from the Ministry of Labor, Immigration and Population told Parliament in December that the aim is to implement the project in states and divisions throughout Burma.
He added that they welcome suggestions and insights on the process from local and international experts, including those from IT companies in neighboring countries that are already using digital ID cards.
U Thein Swe said that currently, approximately 37 million people, out of more than 53 million people in Burma, hold the pink paper National Registration Cards.