e-NIC meets challenges of digital age | Sunday Observer

e-NIC meets challenges of digital age

Sri Lanka’s 45-year-old National Identity Card (NIC) is on its way to extinction. The new biometric supported e-NIC which is mooted as a means for credible, hassle free proof of the citizen’s identity is currently on a steady path to becoming a reality, Director e-NIC Project Janaka Amarasinghe told the Sunday Observer.

“The Department of the Registrar of Persons has plans to introduce the e-NIC for a total of 16 million citizens who are 15 years of age and above, within the course of the next two years,” he said.

The existing national ID has gone through little improvements since it was first introduced nearly 45 years ago. Other than the black and white image being replaced with a colour photograph and the hand written text in print with bi-lingual texts, no notable upgrades were made to the NIC.

This identification paper was first introduced as a document of proof to discern between citizens and illegal immigrants from India to Sri Lanka. It was mooted after the 1964 Sirima – Shastri pact, the Agreement on Persons of Indian Origin in Ceylon, whipped up a dialogue over which South Indian workers must be given citizenship in Sri Lanka and who should be sent back to India.

The NIC in its present form was issued in 1972, after the Registration of Persons Act No 32 was passed in 1968 and the regulations were brought in on October 1, 1971. At that time Sri Lanka was among the leading countries which had its own National Identity Card

“Currently we have a manual paper based system to issue the NIC. It is easy to tamper with and it is not damage proof,” the Director explained, adding that forged IDs are an issue the Department has to deal with constantly.

He explained that many of the IDs used today are smudged, the picture faded and the laminating cover damaged. There is no binding requirement for holders to upgrade the information in the ID, therefore, the NICs obtained during school years are still being used by citizens although they hardly meet the primary objective.

According to the Department, the new automated NIC has several objectives - to prove identity, verification purposes/simplified data sharing for other state agencies, and ensure personal/national security. “In other words, we want to ensure right service to the right person,” the Project Director said.

This is ensured by constantly updated personal information, capturing the biometrics, an International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) standard photograph and a facial image.

The Director said, once the new e-NICs are introduced it will almost zero the troubles faced by law abiding citizens to prove their identity at every milestone of their lives; e.g. when applying for a new job, bank loan, driving licence, passport, registration of a vehicle or to get the child admitted to a school.

With the e-NICs there will not be a necessity to call for many authentication documents, such as, Grama Niladary certificate, police certificate, birth certificate, marriage certificate, etc. as proof of identity, since such data will be securely updated in the e-NIC database through a network of Divisional Secretary offices.

The National ID is the primary document to seek services from State agencies and other offices, and if this document is credible enough, Amarasinghe said, there is no need for other documentary proof.

“The e-ID database will be secured by a firewall, no one will have automatic access to the database without the consent of the holder and the Commissioner General, and in my opinion only criminals or non-law abiding citizens should oppose this project,” the Project Director said, adding that this is an ideal solution to prove one’s identity, one of the biggest challenges in the digital age, and this NIC will not leave room for impersonations.

In its 45 year history this is the first attempt to digitize the National Identity Card and make it human error proof. The nine digit algorithm used for the existing card was developed by the Central Bank and the new e-NIC will also have a 12 digit algorithm.

The e-NICs also require details of the family, if he/she is a married person he/she will be asked to supply the basic details of the spouse and children to be entered in a National Registry of Persons.

If the person is not married he will be required to provide parent’s details, but there is no requirement to submit details of siblings.

At the outset (in 1972) the National ID was compulsory for citizens aged 18 and above, and then the age limit was brought down to 16.

The new e-NIC which is in the offing will be issued for those aged 15, and once the law is made effective everyone in the age category will be required to apply for the new e-NIC.

“The Cabinet approved the e-ID project in Aug 2011, and the Act was unanimously approved in Parliament in June this year. This is a victory for every law abiding citizen of the country,” the Director said adding that the challenge now is to complete the database.

The Department is working with a target to complete capturing biometrics and .. database within the course of the next 8 months, before mid 2018. “Our plan is to issue the first e-NIC by 2019,” he said.

It would be a difficult task given that in other countries including India, biometric capturing has been challenged in the Supreme Court citing reasons of privacy, a constitutional right in that country. Other than the finger prints, the Indian e-NIC, popularly known as Aadhaar Biometric Identification Scheme, requires recording of the holder’s irises.

Information to be recorded for e-NIC


Date of Birth:

Place of Birth:



Family details:

Any other information as may be prescribed:

Step in the right direction - PAFFREL Executive Director

PAFFREL Executive Director 
Rohana Hettiarachchi

“As an election monitoring watchdog, we support this move by the Government to digitize the National Identity Card issuance process. This is a step in the right direction.

There could be opposition to this plan, as there can be opposition to anything new. But, we think this is something that needs to happen. Impersonations and NICs are issues during an election period as well. Sri Lanka needs to have a tamper free ID system. We have to look into the pros and cons of this project and see if they are sound objectives, those not governed by ulterior motives.

Anything can be misused, just like the law on CCTV. The CCTV is a good tool to solve cases of robberies and murder, but at the same time, they can be installed in female rest rooms. We must ensure that this project takes wing, but that it will not be misused for sinister purposes.