Biometrics vs Indelible Ink

UPDATE: Read here and here for interesting readers’ comments – an interesting link on how introduction of biometrics could mean millions in revenue for those will be supplying the whole package and why it is not worth the investment in the first place.

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(Showing the middle finger to indelible ink? Image source: http://www.wn.com)

Read this first:-

The Election Commission (EC) will introduce the biometric voter verification system to beef up security and overcome the issue of phantom voters, which is frequently raised by the opposition during elections.

“The use of the biometric system will also help in preventing an individual or a voter from casting vote twice,” EC chairman Tan Sri Abdul Aziz Mohd Yusof told a press conference here, reported Bernama.

(Source)

And

The EC had said that it would introduce the biometric system for the coming parliamentary election.

But state DAP secretary Chong Chieng Jen thinks otherwise.

“The biometric system can still be manipulated.

“Secondly, it is too costly. The EC needs to have thumb-print reader in every stream and in every polling station.

“It’s not practical. We would prefer the EC to use the indelible ink. It is much cheaper. This is our party’s stand,” he said.

(Source)

And

With regards to indelible ink, it is used among countries which have no identification system, such as Africa and India.

They have not reached our level yet. We only have 12 million voters. Why should we turn our system backwards when we have reached this level of technological advancement? The reason there is a push for the use of indelible ink is due to fear of double-voting, but we have an adequate system to handle voter identification and it is nearly impossible for people to register twice.

We only have one identification number, and one identification card. That is why we are seriously considering the biometric system.

(Source)

Yes, biometric is more high tech and with a comprehensive national identification system as the backbone, it makes a lot of sense to use biometrics instead of indelible ink. And yet, indelible ink seems to be the right option for Malaysia right now for simple reasons:-

1. It is cheap. Certainly it is cheaper than acquiring and configuring the biometric system (with huge commission paid to crony linked companies in disguise of maintenance and other matters?) and then spending time and resources on comprehensive testing to ensure it does not go down at the very crucial.

2. It is fail-proof. Being in the IT industry for “some time” now, one thing is clear to me – no system is bug free and if you screw up on your development and testing, the system will bite you back on your backside when you least expect it. Can you imagine the horrors when you and your family members go down to cast your votes and when they scan your fingers, the biometrics system returns a reply that your name is not in the list. Compare that with a simple indelible ink – all one need to do is to ensure it is tagged on the finger of those who have voted and the same person does not come back to vote for the second time.

The indelible ink was to be used in the last general election but EC withdraw it at the last minutes, citing “public order and security issues”. But then again, the use of biometrics system does not mean the shortcomings of having phantom votes will be resolved as well. Then there is a question of whether EC, despite proposing biometrics system in the first place, is really ready to implement them in the up-coming general elections. Have they done enough testing and prepared the necessary procedures and backups to ensure that the system is truly robust, hack-proof and works well?

Bersih chairman Datuk Ambiga Sreenevasan raised concerns whether the proposed biometric system could be implemented before the next general election, and also whether the system would rely on data from the National Registration Department (NRD).

The Election Commission (EC), she said, must furnish to the public more details on the biometric system before rushing to implement it.

“The EC must explain everything in full; will it be ready by GE13?

“The data has to also be of integrity; will it rely on data provided from the NRD? If the biometric system is tied to the NRD, and if the department cannot determine which voters are deceased, then this is a grave concern,” she said during a public forum here with EC deputy chairman Datuk Wira Wan Ahmad Wan Omar.

In response, Wan Ahmad said the biometric system would be the “best way” to solve the problems concerning the current electoral roll.

“Through fingerprint scans, no two persons will have the same biometry. When it is ready, the biometric system will be matched with 12 million registered voters,” he said.

But the EC deputy head was mum when asked by reporters later whether it could implement the new system by the next general election.

“Elections are up to when Parliament is dissolved… We can only speculate, but we don’t know when that is,” he told a news conference.

(Source)

Here lies the danger of still insisting for the biometrics system before the system is really ready for implementation. This is why the call for use of indelible ink is still valid. We cannot prolong the shortcomings in the election process (one that been admitted by the EC themselves). So why not use it until the biometrics system is really ready and fail-proof?

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