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Fingerprint technology could secure SA elections

2014-05-06 10:00
Fingerprint technology could significantly limit fraud and speed up the voting process. (Duncan Alfreds, News24)
Cape Town - South Africa heads to the polls on Wednesday, but the process could be made far more efficient by biometrics data like fingerprints to verify voters and limit fraud.

The standard practice in SA is that voters' identity books are checked and despite the rollout of a new ID card, the process takes time and is not a 100% defence against corruption.

"The use of fingerprint biometrics in South Africa's voting process would allow for each individual to cast a vote and make sure that their voice is heard - enhancing the democratic process," Greg Sarrail, vice president for Solutions Business Development at Lumidigm told News24.

The company has been developing secure biometrics systems that have met with some success for elections in Ghana, Kenya, Sierra Leone, Tanzania and Nigeria.

In Brazil, the biometrics systems are also used for ATMs and FNB has indicated that it is studying the technology for implementation in SA.

Reliable method

"Fingerprint biometrics is a rapid way to verify an individual’s identity and to make sure that the person voting is the same person that was issued their SA Smart ID card.  Voting lines would be decreased as the verification process would be much more efficient than the manual process that is used today," said Sarrail.

However, the reputation of biometrics has taken a hit in recent weeks when German researchers revealed that they had been able to compromise the fingerprint security of both the iPhone 5s and the Samsung Galaxy S5.

Sarrail said that biometrics data itself is not a secret but that the methodology employed to detect them has to be reliable.

"First and foremost while each of us has a unique set of fingerprints – they are not secret. In fact, we leave our fingerprints on surfaces everywhere, every day. However, this doesn’t mean our biometric data has been compromised."

He added that detection methods should include the ability to detect that the finger being presented does, in fact, belong to the correct person.

"Reliable biometric systems use liveness detection to ensure that the fingerprint data that is used to match an individual is from a real, live human.  They also use fake-finger prevention mechanisms to ensure that the fingerprint being presented to the sensor at that moment in time originated from a live human and that it is not a fake representation."

All voting stations are open from 07:00 and close at 21:00.

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Read more on: technology  |  elections 2014

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