Saudi Women to Swap ID Mug Shots for Fingerprints

Saudi women might soon have the photographs in their personal identification cards replaced with fingerprints, a move aimed to make ID cards more accessible and bureaucratic procedures for women easier. Saudi members of parliament and license control officials are suggesting the traditional photograph in the personal ID cards be removed and replaced with fingerprints.

This would ease difficulties that women face when verifying their identity in all-male government offices, the Saudi Al-Madina newspaper reported. The move is being hailed by Saudi officials as a way to protect Saudi women’s rights and make them more independent.

Abeer Mishkas, a columnist in the Saudi daily Arab News, explained that many women in Saudi Arabia do not own personal identity cards because they are unhappy about the idea of having their picture displayed to strange men. Women, especially in rural areas, tend to walk around totally covered, without revealing their face to any man, Mishkas said. A card with a picture is seen as a breach of privacy, so many choose to have their name registered on a joint family card. In some cases, women photocopy their ID card and blot out the picture, she added.

The officials said using fingerprints would reduce fraud and would prevent cases in which a woman’s legal and personal rights are abused by a guardian such as a husband, father or other male relative. In some cases a man will bring a veiled woman to a bank or other such institution and fraudulently pass her off as a wife or family member to get her money, Mishkas told The Media Line.

From this point of view, she believes the fingerprinting system could make things more reliable. “The fact that all women would have cards will give us more independence and will protect our rights,” she said. However, she cautioned that the new system would also expose women to fraud, especially since many governmental institutions are not equipped with the machinery to validate identification through fingerprinting.

Spokesman for the license authority, ‘Abd A-Rahman Al-‘Ajlan, told Al-Madina the fingerprinting would be used for between five to six million residents. It will also be used to register some 1.5 million pilgrims who arrive in Saudi Arabia throughout the year.

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