Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The importance of biometric authentication today

Biometric authentication strengthens the security of e-voting
(Photo Smartmatic)
“One voter, one vote” is a principle central to the preservation of democracy. Based on it, governments have strived to improve their electoral systems. With the advent of electoral technology, biometric authentication has become a solution that prevents identity theft and vote stuffing. This system has already been used in Venezuela with excellent results, and it could be employed as well in the US.

For the past decade, Venezuela has been at the cutting edge of electoral technology and has continued to gain the admiration of the world with the implementation of new tools to reinforce its advantages. The technology used by the Latin American country at the presidential election this year guaranteed that the ballots cast reflected the intent of each real citizen who attended the polling stations. With the Integrated Authentication System (SAI), each voter had to be identified through a fingerprint scan in order to activate the machine and exert his or her right to suffrage. The procedure was always explained to each and every voter by a delegate from the polling station, and there were extensive drills before the elections to get citizens accustomed to the use of the machine.

Biometric authentication is not a terribly complex procedure, and yet it strengthens the security of e-voting and safeguards its transparency. As we’ve stated in previous posts, the simplest benefit of biometric identification is that it helps prevent dead people from voting, which is the oldest form of identity theft. For this reason, other countries have also begun to think about implementing this form of technology. In the US, the debate is on.

In spite of the recurring cases of fraud in US elections, some political sectors are convinced that requiring an ID at the polling station is equivalent to disenfranchising the minorities, who represent a significant portion of the voting population. As discussed here, it all boils down to a problem of balance between access and integrity. Are governments meant to grant access to suffrage to as many people as possible, even if many of these people will not be alive or even real when they are not required to confirm their identity in order to vote? If so, how can countries guarantee their citizens that their intent is being reflected in the results of their elections? How could the unrestricted access to vote—and fraud—aid in the construction and preservation of democracy?

Biometric authentication is not meant to be a weapon to disenfranchise citizens. On the contrary, it is a tool to give citizens the certainty and relief that it is their real voice that is being heard when election results are revealed. Now that Venezuelan elections using biometric authentication have been carried out with positive results, the US might want to look up how simple yet effective voter identity authentication has been.