How many photos?

Dave Reeder, Editorial Director, CPI

Bureaucracy is the curse of government. This is a worldwide truism but many of us hoped that the widespread adoption of IT would at least slow down the natural desire of government and municipal authorities to gather mounds of paper-based information about all of us, to be stored in dusty backrooms probably to all intents and purposes lost for effective use after a few months.

For example, we’ve all heard of the legendary Indian bureaucracy, the everything in triplicate system that is one of the poorer legacies of the British Raj.

So, when I first became a resident of the UAE, it was no great surprise that forms had to filled out in duplicate, that multiple copies of photographs supplied, passport copies submitted for every purpose. In fact, one of the best pieces of advice to new residents was ‘always carry at least a dozen copies of your photograph and three copies of your passport’…

But things have changed, right?

After Dubai Internet City was set up over ten years ago as a shining beacon of the importance of intellectual capital and the reliance of the Emirate on the future digital economy, things have moved on, right? After a decade of discussion stressing the importance of e-government and e-efficiency, things have moved on, right? Surely by now we have reached what used to be called in Europe ‘joined up government’?

In an age where even the smallest bank is mining its customer data to make connections and develop specific product offerings, isn’t the government moving along the same path? At a time when storage and data analysis are virtually commoditised, why are we still dealing with paper records?

More specifically, why does my new residence visa application now require seven passport photographs, up from last time’s six? Just what is going on, especially as my visa is under TECOM, under whose remit Dubai Internet City falls?

What seven departments/offices in Dubai government need a physical copy of a photograph instead of a digital copy? Why isn’t there a central respository where departments can access simple data about me – residence status, date of birth, nationality, employer details, passport number, etc? Of course, some will say that the Emirates ID card will deliver this, but surely after a decade of e-government we should be further advanced than a request for seven passport-sized photographs?

And what is strange is that the government has shown itself to be capable of innovative, efficient e-services. Take the e-gate service for example, that allows ingress and egress through Dubai airport with the swipe of a card and simple biometric confirmation. Obtaining a card takes a few minutes – one digital photo, entry of passport details, capture of fingerprint. The system is simple and effective, so things are possible.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go and arrange to print out those passport photographs…

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