Identity Cards in Malta - a brief history

Tags: History

In 1975 instructions were given to the Commissioner of Police and the Director of Information to photograph each person over 18 years old and eventually provide each person with an Identity Card. This exercise was to start with the least possible delay and a committee was set up with representatives from the Police, Department of Information, Office of the Prime Minister and Electoral Office to co-ordinate operations, recruit the necessary personnel and purchase equipment and consumables needed for the exercise. A venue was identified in each town and village in Malta and Gozo where persons could go to be photographed and a special team was set up to go to hospitals, institutions and private residences where persons residing there requested assistance.
The methodology used at that time was entirely based on traditional photographic systems. Over 200,000 photos were taken on 35mm film and after development a contact print was made from the film. This print was stuck onto a card - the Identity Card. In order to protect the Identity Card and enhance its security, assistance was sought from a local plastic manufacturer who produced a customised pouch and encapsulated the Identity Card in a blue tamper-proof plastic wallet. The particulars on the Identity Card were all hand-written and one may imagine the long hours of tiring work performed by those who were involved in the operation, particularly the Police and the staff at the Department of Information, to finish the exercise by the stipulated date.
In 1980 the Identity Card was upgraded to include the Public Registry birth certificate number. This number is unique for each person born in Malta or Gozo from 1864 onwards and it is now the key to all transactions related to personal data carried out by government departments, the banking sector and other institutions. The methodology used during the Identity Card renewal exercise held in 1980/81 was still based on photographic systems; however, Polaroid instant developing films were used instead. This system eliminated the time-consuming photographic darkroom operations although the particulars on the Identity Card were still hand-written.  Four photographs of each person were taken and each one was stuck onto the appropriate card held by the respective department. The staff at the Electoral Office and the Public Registry worked for very long hours to corroborate the particulars given by over 250,000 persons with the records held at the Public Registry and ensure that the details on the Identity Card were correct.
After 1981 the Identity Card underwent only a few changes during the following 13 years. In 1986 another Identity Card renewal exercise was carried out based on the same method and technology used previously. In 1992 the administrative section that issued the Identity Card at the Police was transferred to the Electoral Office and from then onwards the Electoral Office began issuing the Identity Card although the responsible officer at law is still the Commissioner of Police. This move made possible the utilisation of the image and textual database and the technology available at the Electoral Office and in 1994 a study was carried out to make the Identity Card more secure and conform to international standards. Discussions on the format, layout and security features of the Identity Card were held with De La Rue in England; the proposed concept was to make the Identity Card form an integral part of a perforated sheet of security paper. The competent authorities approved the concept and the design, and the sheets incorporating the background printing and security features together with the laminating pouches were printed in England. Afterwards, towards the end of 1995 an exercise was held to renew the Identity Cards of all persons in Malta and Gozo. The sheets containing the particulars of the persons residing in each locality were first printed at the Electoral Office using laser printers. Then, at each locality a photograph was taken in colour on Polaroid film and stuck onto the Identity Card forming part of the sheet. The Identity Card was detached from the sheet, signed, laminated in a security pouch and given to the person on the spot.
The iminent expiry of a large number of Identity Cards, the various requests made by government departments, the need for additional security and the fast changing world of technology necessitated a review of the Identity Card. It was obvious, and this was agreed to by all concerned, that a new Identity Card should be based on plastic card technology to take the advantages available both at that time and in the foreseeable future. In 2000 discussions about the design, layout and security features were held with Datacard and Enschede SDU in Holland and after approval by the competent authorities, Austria Card in Austria produced the plastic cards with the design and background printing. The Identity Card renewal exercise then started towards the end of 2001. At each locality a photograph in colour on Polaroid film was taken and stuck to an application form that contained also the signature and particulars of the person. Afterwards, the image and the signature on the form were scanned and printed by appropriate printers onto the plastic cards at the Electoral Office. Individuals then collected their Identity Card from the Police station in their locality. It is needless to say that staff at the Electoral Office and other departments involved together with the Police worked long hours to make the whole exercise a success.
One must point out that the process mentioned above applied solely to the mass Identity Card renewal exercise carried out during 2001/02 in all localities in Malta and Gozo. The issuing and renewal of Identity Cards continued at the Electoral Office using an efficient and high technology system whereby the individual was photographed by means of a digital camera and his signature captured on an electronic pad. The plastic Identity Card was then printed by plastic card printers and given to the individual on the spot.  This Identity Card system continued to be used until end December 2012 for foreigners and till the 9th February 2014 for Maltese citizens.
The National Identity Management System (NIDMS) replaced the Identity Card Issuing System at the Electoral Office, but this was not the only change. After talks between Malta Information Technology Agency (MITA), Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) and the Electoral Commission the operations of this function was transferred to the Identity Management Office (IDMO) and the Department of Citizenship and Expatriate Affairs (DCEA) for the Maltese citizens and foreigners respectively. The new eResidence card was launched on the 1st January 2013 while the new eIdentity Card was launched on the 10th February 2014.
In the case of Maltese citizens a mass renewal exercise was carried out in every village between May and October 2014. The issuing and renewal of Identity Cards continued at the IDMO using a high technology system whereby the individual is photographed by means of a digital camera and his signature is captured on an electronic pad. The personalisation of the Identity Card became a back office function and each card was quality assured before being sent for distribution. Maltapost was entrusted with the distribution of the new eIdentity Card and were also commissioned to collect the old Identity Cards. The new Identity Card brought with it a few other changes which included the IDMO Officer as the signatory of the card and an expiry date of 10 years from the date of issue. However the biggest change in the card was the introduction of an electronic chip including two digital certificates. Each holder, of a new eIdentity Card, was supplied with PIN numbers and the national plan is to introduce eServices that could be accessed by using this smart card.
The process for foreigners was carried out at the DCEA offices in Valletta and Rabat, Gozo. The procedure included the applicant’s visit to the office to apply and then again to collect the eResidence Card following the receipt of a letter issued by the same department. The eResidence card for the foreign residents contained the same functionality of the eIdentity Card.
As a result of this last change in the issuance to the national identification documents, the Electoral Office began receiving both electronically and manually all the transactions generated by the IDMO and the DCEA for Maltese nationals and EU nationals respectively.