Recommendations of the 2023 SAFIRE Participants Forum Meeting

On Thursday 21 September, we held a SAFIRE Participants’ Forum meeting. This post summarises the significant outcome of that meeting.

There was a single item on the agenda for discussion: the future governance of the South African Identity Federation. By unanimous consensus, we will recommend to TENET’s Board of Directors that they dissolve the SAFIRE Steering Committee and that SAFIRE’s governance should be subsumed into TENET’s REN Master Service Agreement (REN MSA).

While the final decision still rests with TENET’s Board, assuming they agree with the recommendation, this change means that SAFIRE will have the same governance and reporting structure as all other NREN services going forward.

The most important implication is that the Federation’s channel for reporting back to TENET’s Board changes from the SAFIRE Steering Committee to the SLA Reference Group (SLARG). For those unfamiliar with the SLARG, it is also a formally constituted sub-committee of TENET’s Board. It serves much the same role as the existing SAFIRE Steering Committee, except with a broader mandate extending to all NREN services. TENET’s change to a master service agreement in December 2020 has led to a dual reporting structure for SAFIRE, which the proposed change seeks to normalise.

As at the time of the meeting, all but one of SAFIRE’s identity providers are also signatories of the REN MSA and have the right to representation at the SLARG. This makes the SLARG nearly synonymous with SAFIRE’s notion of a Member.

The dissolution of SAFIRE’s Steering Committee also has implications for the existing Participants’ Forum. We proposed that a smaller advisory group replace this forum. Rather than automatically including all Participants, this new grouping will consist of volunteers from those more active Participants (from both identity- and service-providers) willing to share their experience and expertise in shaping the Federation. We would form such a group under the auspices of the REN MSA and the Service Description for SAFIRE. Some work is required to draft new terms of reference based on the feedback we receive.

In the longer term, we may redraft the existing Participation Agreement to make it somewhat lighter weight and more focused on service providers. However, because of the way both agreements are currently structured, the current Participation Agreement automatically serves as the Service Description contemplated in the REN MSA. For all but one identity provider in the Federation, the REN MSA already takes precedence over the Participation Agreement; And for service providers that aren’t also identity providers, the Participation Agreement remains a stand-alone agreement. As a result, there’s no immediate rush to do this.

Indeed, it may take considerable time to update all of SAFIRE’s policy, practice statements, and documentation to reflect these changes. Rest assured that this will not impact the operation of the Federation as none of the proposals represent a significant departure from the current de facto operations of the Federation. These changes simply formalise what is already happening.

Finally, it is worth noting that these changes are neither unique to SAFIRE nor unexpected. Indeed, in preparing for the 2023 Participants’ Forum meeting, we came across a document written in 2014 by one of SAFIRE’s member institutions that predicted this eventuality.

South African Identity Federation