Kenya BVR: Enrollment kits are the easy part

Kenya’s flirtation with electoral biometrics has been in the news a lot lately. That fact has been reflected in the content and analysis hear at the SecurLinx blog (click here).

An often overlooked aspect of large biometric deployments is how small a piece of the overall solution biometric hardware is. The following article does as good a job as any I’ve seen adding context and detail.

BVR Is Unworkable; Its Use In 2013 Will Just Be A Disaster (The Star)

The debate on the Biometric Voter Registration has taken an unfortunate and impractical twist due to misinformation by politicians and the usual busybodies in Kenya. For the Executive and political class to insist that the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission must implement BVR six months to elections is to invite disaster.

The issue around BVR at this point is not just about procurement. The main problem around BVR is implementation. BVR is not just a briefcase with sophisticated equipment. It is an integrated information system that comprises hardware, software, data, processes and people. Procurement will only deal with hardware. The devil is in implementing the software and ensuring the information system unlocks the promised benefits. Unfortunately, our politicians have hyped the benefits and created expectations of unrealistic dimensions.

“It brings together data from all the sensors.”

It looks like the US Military is developing the Mother of All (Data)bases — a military intelligence MOAB, if you will.

Integrated Intelligence Framework Takes Shape (

This state-of-the-art battlefield intelligence, reconnaissance and surveillance architecture will enable analysts from every service to take data from multiple military and government sensors and databases and compile them into a single, easy-to-access format, he explained.

DCGS-Army, already fielded in Afghanistan as it undergoes operational testing and evaluation, provides a glimpse into that intelligence enterprise.

“It brings together data from all the sensors,” Wells said, regardless of whether they’re based in space, on aircraft or on the ground — even biometric data collected by a soldier at a local forward operating base — and incorporates it into a single platform.

See also:
What if? Online Real-Time Searchable Sensor Data

The original MOAB is here. (You Tube)

The Challenge of Establishing a Biometric Modality

Future Eye Scanners Must Combat Aging Eyes (Live Science)

The iris — the colored part of the eye that eye-scanners analyze — changes as people age, making the scanners more likely to wrongly lock out people with every passing year, according to a new study.

The finding goes against the established, yet never-proven notion that eye scanners can accurately identify people throughout their lives, said Kevin Bowyer, a computer scientist at the University of Notre Dame who performed the study.

Read the whole thing. It’s an article that gets at an interesting aspect of the algorithm end of the biometric ID management problem. It also has input from two of the speakers at the recent TechConnectWV event: Marios Savvides (Carnegie Mellon) and Bojan Cukic (W. Va. Univ.).

A good biometric modality must be: unique, durable, and easily measurable. If any of these are missing, widespread use for ID management isn’t in the cards. If something is unique and durable but isn’t easily measurable, it can still be useful but it isn’t going to become ubiquitous in automated (or semi-automated) technology. Teeth and DNA fit this model. Teeth have been used to determine the identity of dead bodies with a high degree of certainty for a long time, but we aren’t going to be biting any sensors to get into our computers any time soon — or ever. Likewise with DNA.

There is also the challenge of proving that a modality is in fact unique, durable and easily measurable which requires a whole lot of experimental data, and especially regarding uniqueness, a healthy dose of statistical analysis. I’m no statistician, and from what I understand, the statistical rules for proving biometric uniqueness aren’t fully developed yet anyway, so let’s just leave things in layman’s terms and say that if you’re wanting to invent a new biometric modality and someone asks you how big a data set of samples of the relevant body part you need, your best answer is “how much can you get me?”

In order to ascertain uniqueness you need samples from as many different people as you can get. For durability you biometric samples for the same person taken over a period of time and multiplied by a lot of people. 

Ease of measure is more experiential and will be discovered during the experimentation process. The scientists charged with collecting the samples from real people will quickly get a feel for the likelihood that people would adapt to a given ID protocol.

For two of the “big three” biometric modalities, face and fingerprint, huge data repositories have existed since well before there was any such thing as a biometric algorithm. Jails (among others) had been collecting this information for a hundred years and the nature of the jail business means you’ll get several samples from the same subject often enough to test durability, too, over their criminal life. These data could be selected such that they were as good as they could be to assess both uniqueness and durability. For face, other records such as school year books exist and were readily available to researchers who sought to measure uniqueness and durability.

Which brings us to iris.

Where do you look to find a database of several million high-resolution images of human irises collected by professionals who took good notes? Well there’s your problem.

The solution is to go about building such a data set yourself and several organizations have been doing just that. One can make considerable progress on in the question of uniqueness with a big push, collecting more data quickly. Assessing durability, however, takes time no matter how much money and effort can be applied. Some processes can be sped up with more resources; some can’t (nine women can’t make a baby in a month) and the real bummer with determining biometric durability is that you can’t really know in advance how much time it’s going to take to prove it to a satisfactory degree. 

So it’s not a surprise that the uniqueness of the human iris was determined before its durability, and it may come about that the iris is, like the face, “durable enough.” We are all too aware that the face changes, but certain aspects of it don’t change so much that facial recognition is pointless. The same may be true of the iris. It, too, may be durable enough.

It may also turn out to be the case that irises change in a predictable way and that those changes can be accounted for on the software side, so all this isn’t to say that iris isn’t among, or won’t solidify its position among the “big three”; it’s just had a harder road to get there.

Is Residence Address an Important ID Management Detail?

Do we really need to worry about proof of address? (Economic Times)

It is possible to abandon proof of address altogether and accept an applicant’s submission as authentic. Biometric tags and de-duplication software that works across multiple databases – driving licences, hospital records, school and college registers, insurance and bank accounts – would identify cases that call for further verification.

Sure, this means a lot of computerisation. So what?

Trust everyone’s claimed address, verify those that give cause for doubt. This is integral to inclusive growth.

There are some really good points here.

At first I thought that, if not address, than some geographical descriptor would be necessary in many real world applications. Voting in state and local elections is geography dependent. Many public services are provided only to people in a given jurisdiction.

But author T K Arun makes a good point. In a world of perfect database interoperability and deduplication, residence address doesn’t matter much, especially compared to the challenges and misery associated with having a huge population of people without ID.

From the individual angle, so long as an individual can only vote in one place, as long as they can only collect cash transfers intended for one group (for example they are prevented from simulteneously collecting subsidies for rice growers and fishermen), overall ID-based shenanigans will decrease.

On the service provider level, if databases are linked, two schools claiming to educate the same child (and billing the government for it) would have some explaining to do. For more along these lines, see Biometrics “Fix” Identity.

It’s an interesting conversation and we may be headed that way, but for now, perfect interoperability and (single factor) deduplication isn’t a reality.

But like we always say, don’t let perfect be the enemy of good. Give the poor man an ID — even if he can’t give a permanent residence address.

Biometrics “Fix” Identity

Even if there is fraud in the identification process, biometrics can be used to fix a single identity upon an individual.

An article in today’s Canberra Times about people smuggling brings home the point.

Despite some unauthorised arrivals’ lack of documents, biometric capability is critical. In a few cases, unauthorised boat arrivals will be identified from international databases, particularly through fingerprints. Even if people cannot be identified, the collection of biometric data on arrival provides a basis for anchoring the identity of an unauthorised arrival, so that the Australian community can be confident it is dealing with one person and that further identity-shifting is difficult. It also leaves open the possibility of identification in the future. [Emphasis mine]

One classic use of identity fraud among professional criminals is the use of multiple ID’s so as to keep a clean identity and a dirty identity. If possible, all the documents involved are “real” in that even the ID card related to the fabricated identity is issued by the legitimate authority.

When the the professional criminal with his family in the car is pulled over for running a stop sign in his neighborhood by a police man who goes to the same church, he presents his “real” ID. When he’s picked up in the course of his job, say 1,500 miles away, with a trunk full of weapons and narcotics, he gives the police the ID containing bogus information.

The arresting officers call the ID authority who created the false ID card. Sure enough, he’s in the database. No criminal record. Light sentence for a first offence and he can still go back to his life, get another ID, and go back to work, too.

The same pattern works well with fraud.

Pretty simple, right?

Well, yes — until biometrics.

Once ID issuing authorities institute biometric checks before issuing new ID documents, even a person who lies on their original ID application is stuck with only the one ID.* Further attempts to obtain additional ID’s can be detected and investigated. Later claims of a false identity (or lost ID) can be unraveled.

This is something that might have given pause to the person who supplied Mr. Coriander with fingerprints. If he thought the only time those fingerprints could be used for a UID number, he might not have found the joke as funny.

*This applies to discrete ID management system. If ID databases aren’t linked, it may be possible to maintain different identities in different databases.

The Cat-Herder’s Lament – IT and Organizational Culture

Reversing Poor Data Management Culture (This Day Live)

In the conduct of studies in less developed countries (LDCs), while great emphasis is placed on study design, data collection and analysis, very often, little attention is paid to data management. As a consequence, investigators working in these countries frequently face challenges in cleaning, analysing and interpreting data. In most research settings, the data management team is formed with temporary and unskilled persons.

This article offers a lot of detail about how and why organizations crash into the hard lesson that biometrics for ID management (or any IT system, for that matter) can’t run an organization by themselves. The efficiencies and return on investment offered by biometric ID management (and other IT) systems are so great that they are almost irresistible. While they make organizations easier to manage, they can never truly operate outside the cultural environment where they reside.

When a hallmark of a management culture is to carve out administrative turf and defend it to the last, things like this happen:

Nine years ago, Nigeria spent billions of naira on the National Identity Card Scheme (NICS), and another huge amount was gulped by the National Census in 2006. Last year, the Independent National Electronic Commission (INEC), spent close to N90 billion on a voter registration exercise, while the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) spent an unjustified N6 billion on SIM card registration. This year, the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC) is at it again as it seeks to expend N30 billion for a national ID scheme.

The issues discussed in the article are faced by all sorts of large organizations, not just LDC’s. A lot of the complaints would sound exactly the same coming from inside large universities in the United States.

Read the whole thing.

Back to Three Sides of the Same Coin