The home affairs department has almost completed the conversion of about 30-million hard-copy fingerprint records into digital images, says Deputy Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba.

The digital format will allow for faster and more accurate identification of people.

"It's going to improve service delivery and fight crime. I'm warning the criminals to be aware," Gigaba said yesterday.

The back-record conversion project started in 1996. It forms part of the department's national identification system (Hanis) project, which aims to enable the department to address the service delivery requirements within its different business areas through modern technology.

"This is a very important element of the Hanis project. It will make it easy for us and the police to verify the details of persons," Gigaba said.

The project should improve the image of the department, which has often been criticised for its inefficiency, fraud and corruption.

Gigaba said the project would help eliminate identity-document fraud, which he described as "very big".

Officials would be able to electronically scan people's fingerprints and be able to check their details or if identity documents belonged to them.

The electronic system would also make it easier for department employees to call up the records of an individual when applying for a passport or marriage certificate.

The system would benefit other departments, such as safety and security, correctional services, and the National Intelligence Agency (NIA).

In terms of an agreement with the safety and security department, a few employees would have access to the department's database to verify the details of an individual for the police.

Gigaba said NIA access to the system would be restricted, and relate only to its field of work. "People have rendered their details to us in hope that we will keep them confidential," he said.

It would help the correctional services department in clearing up the identities of inmates.

Prisons have had to deal with inmates who claim not to have identification, or others who have given authorities false names. The department has also discovered that some inmates have more than one identity document. Gigaba said that the system would also be able to verify quickly if a person arrested for being an illegal immigrant was a South African.

Business Day