ID by Fingerprint: Biometrics Comes to the Brazilian Elections

    Voting machine

    Voting machine Over 20 million voters – 15% of the population to take part in the 2014 elections – are estimated to cast their ballot by means of a voting machine with biometric identification, announced the Superior Electoral Court (“TSE”) on Wednesday, August 20.

    The technology can be found in 762 municipalities, among which 15 state capitals. The machines use the electors’ fingerprints to recognize their identity.

    “It’s the safest process in existence,” asserted TSE IT Secretary Giuseppe Janino. He maintains that the purpose of using biometrics is to reduce human intervention in the electoral process as much as possible, increasing speed and minimizing the risk of errors and frauds as a result.

    “We can say there’s no perfect system, but the biometric identification is considerably safer and more accurate than regular, man-operated identification,” he notes.

    According to Janino, the biometric system does not currently focus on quick vote counting, but rather on lowering the risks of fraud. “The identification process serves to prevent someone from passing for someone else,” he explains.

    However, critical of the use of biometrics in elections, Professor Pedro Antonio Dourado de Rezende, from the Computer Science Department at the University of Brasília, warns that there is still room for errors.

    “All biometric methods rely on some probability-based technique that entails recognizing patterns and matching a registered pattern with the one presented. They’re therefore subject to errors. When widespread, as is the case in Brazil, these errors become inevitable, and occur at a predictable rate,” the professor says.

    Rezende says that whenever the optical reader fails to identify a fingerprint, it is the assistant’s job to use the documents of the electors, along with a special code, to unblock the machine for vote.

    In his opinion, this may cause a security breach. “Dishonest people will still be able to use the code to unblock the machine and cast a ballot in an absentee’s place, near the end of the election day, for instance,” he argues.

    For Professor Luís Kalb Roses, from the Catholic University of Brasília, the problem can be tackled by holding hearings during the electoral process and making sure the system in use is appropriately certified.

    “Biometrics is a technological solution aimed at authenticity. Now, the equipment on which you place you thumb is one thing, and the process that compares your fingerprint with the database is another. So this checking process must be fully operational.  That’s why it’s important to hold hearings all the time,” he says.

    Nonetheless, Professor Kalb agrees that biometrics is an “excellent option for identifying users,” and further states that “biometrics is just a part of a security solution. It doesn’t ensure the security of the entire process alone.”

    TSE said that the biometric identification entails over 20 operational tests, and that, ever since 2008 – when biometrics was introduced in an election – unsuccessful recognition attempts have been analyzed in order to test the quality of both the software in the voting machines and the fingerprints to be matched.

    TSE reports that the non-recognition rate in the last polls stood at around 4 percent.

    Even where voting machines are available, electors must carry an official document with their picture on it. It may be either their elector’s card or their ID.



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