Banking biometrics taking off in West Africa

A couple of stories out today from West Africa’s largest country, Nigeria, and perhaps its most respected, Ghana, tell of adoption of large-scale biometric deployments in finance.

Nigeria Inter Bank Settlement System (NIBSS) has disclosed that over 18 million customers have so far enrolled for the Biometric Verification Number (BVN) exercise (The Sun)

Eight foreign remittance firms join Ghana’s e-Zwich (Modern Ghana)

Ghana: Praise for biometric health insurance scheme

Government has been commended for giving full backing to the Biometric Registration System adopted recently by the National Health Insurance Authority (NHIA) to ensure greater patronage. (Spy Ghana) — the new system has completely abolished the three months waiting period which, hitherto, newly –registered members had to go through before getting their membership Cards.

Ghana streamlines payments to employees

GhIPSS hails National Service e-zwich agreement (Ghana Web)

The National Service Scheme announced a change in the mode of payment of allowances last week, saying from January 2015 payment of allowances to all national service personnel at post shall be effected through the biometric e-zwich platform.

This is to ensure that payments are made directly to national service personnel by cutting down on the existing long chain of effecting payments.

Biometrics can’t do everything

Biometric registration can’t solve election problems – EC (Ghana News Agency)

Dr Afari-Gyan said from the experience in Ghana, the introduction of the biometric machine in the voting process of elections was not the absolute answer to all election problems.

“The machines are not always the full answers to our problem, because they cannot distinguish between fingerprints of a minor and an adult, or a foreigner and an indigene,” Dr Afari-Gyan said.

Rather,he called for supervision and monitoring of the entire election process as well as training of people who operated the biometric machines to ensure that all eligible voters were identified and allowed to vote accordingly.

It’s true. A technological system designed to account for people can never free itself entirely from the “human element.”

…and I don’t think you’d want it to.

At least 99.27% of Ghanaian voters verified by fingerprint

Almost 80,000 voted by face-only verification – Afari – Gyan (Ghana Web)

The Chairman of the Electoral Commission (EC), Dr. Kwadwo Afari-Gyan on Thursday May 30, 2013, told the Supreme Court in the election petition trial that there were close to 80, 000 voters who were designated as ‘Face-Only’ (FO) voters because the biometric registration machines failed to capture their finger prints during the registration exercise.

Explaining himself further in Court on Thursday, at the start of his evidence-in-chief for the second respondent, Dr. Afari Gyan said among those classified as FO voters were eligible voters who had suffered “permanent trauma” and “temporary trauma”.

He explained permanent trauma to mean voters who had no fingers at all for which reason their fingerprints could not have been captured by the biometric verification machine.

Temporary trauma sufferers, according to Dr. Afari-Gyan, were those who had fingers alright, but nonetheless did not have fingerprints to have been captured by the machine.

He said those two categories of voters were captured in the register as people who could only be identified by their faces before voting since their fingerprints could not be captured by the biometric verification equipment.

Any identification system has to plan for exceptions. This is true whether the ID measure in place is a metal key, an ID card, a PIN, a fingerprint or any combination of ID technologies.

More on exceptions.

A Ghana Web article on exception planning published in early 2012 is here, so the subject of unverifiable biometrics isn’t a surprise.

Instead, let’s deal with the numbers.

According to the article quoted above 80,000 (and that seems to be an upper bound rather than a firm total) voters were given blank ballots without fingerprint ID verification. Some portion of that number would have been definitively established during the voter registration process as people missing hands and fingers as they completed the voter registration process.

The image below (also from Ghana Web) shows candidates, percentage of votes received, and. more importantly for our purposes, raw vote total:

The combined number of votes in parentheses below each candidate’s name comes to 10,995,262. Eighty thousand votes represents 0.73% of the almost eleven million votes cast. The margin of victory between the top two vote-getters was 325,863 votes and they were separated by 2.96% of the total vote.

As far as elections go, having the margin of error less than the margin of victory is a good thing. In this case 0.73% < 2.96% means that the 80,000 unverified votes could not have affected who received the most votes.

Moreover, no one yet asserts that votes cast without fingerprint biometric verification could have favored any one candidate either because there was a systematic attempt to circumvent the biometric verification for fraudulent purposes or because of a geographic disparity in the 80,000 (maximum) exceptions that might have favored one candidate over another.

The bigger story appears to be:
99.27% of the votes in the recent election were cast by biometrically verified legitimate voters.

The last time there was a presidential election, that number was zero and given increased familiarity with the technology and expected improvements in both biometric hardware and software, expect that 99.27% number to increase for the next election.

Ghana, and other countries contemplating fully biometric elections should be heartened by these results.

 

Praise for Ghana’s recent elections

We Should Learn From Ghana Experience (PM News)

“Having been based in Ghana as the Nigeria High Commissioner for four years, going back for the last election was an added value to my trip, in the sense that I can confidently say that their last election where I was an observer, was an improvement on what transpired during the previous presidential and parliamentary election in Ghana.

The introduction of the biometric data-based machine actually assisted in terms of verifying and authenticating the voters and orderliness despite the huge turn out. The orderliness demonstrated by Ghanians was highly commendable.”

If I recall correctly (and unlike the recent Ghanaian elections), the last Nigerian elections featured biometric registration but not biometric voter verification. That recollection is supported here, where a Nigerian official expresses hope for 100% biometric voter authentication by 2015, and later in the interview.

More at the link.

Ghana banking sector embraces private sector biometrics, too

A lot of international attention has been focused on Ghana’s use of biometrics for voter ID management, but Ghanaian banks have been enthusiastic adopters of the technology, as well.

Ghana Automated Clearing House transaction volumes hit almost 200% (Ghana Business News)

GhIPSS was set up by the Bank of Ghana some five years ago to lead the migration of the country into an electronic payment society. Since its establishment, the wholly owned Bank of Ghana subsidiary has introduced a biometric card called the e-zwich, an electronic clearing of cheques with express clearing session, and Payment Distribution System. Its recent addition is the gh-link Interbank ATM Transaction Switching that allows bank to share ATMs.

The point of biometric voter verification

Isn’t that the point?

“Some voters could not exercise their franchise because the verification device rejected them even though they were in possession of their voter’s ID card and their names were in the register.” (Peace FM)

How about…?

Some prospective voters could not exercise the franchise because the verification device rejected them even though they were in possession of a voter’s ID card and their names were in the register. 

…which is precisely the point of biometric voter verification. Entities that have adopted biometric verification have implicitly stated that the card and the name are not sufficient to prove identity. Cards are forged. The names of the dead remain on the registry. Ghost voters (who don’t have fingerprints) are invented. Those things really happen.

On the other hand it is possible, even likely, that some number of people legitimately entitled to vote, and duly registered were prevented from casting a ballot by misapplication of the hardware, a database error or a bad ID transaction due to a damaged finger or dirty sensor, but the article doesn’t produce any examples.

Nevertheless, the electoral commission would be well served to seek out individuals who claim to fit the description quoted above in order to audit the process. Did they register? Is their template in the database? Did it make it on to the proper verification terminal for the appropriate polling place? Etc.

So far, the article’s five comments are unanimous. Verification should stay

Congratulations to Ghana

It looks like Ghana pulled off the most pervasive national biometrically verified elections ever attempted. Brazil probably biometrically verifies more voters than Ghana just did but Brazil is taking a gradual approach to biometric voter verification, scheduled for complete coverage by 2018.

Ghana went straight for blanket coverage and by most accounts did quite well. Of course nothing is perfect. Due to a lack of election materials and some problems with the biometric machinery, some polling places opened late on Friday and reopened on Saturday which wasn’t in the original program.

I had an email exchange over the weekend with a colleague in Accra who has worked with electoral biometrics in Ghana. It leads me to believe that this article posted at Modern Ghana gets things just about right.

Training In Use Of Biometric Must Be Top Priority In Next Election—CODEO Recommends

The Coalition of Domestic Election Observers (CODEO) has called on the Electoral Commission (EC) to actively engage electoral officers and all persons associated with the Biometric Verification Machines process in intensive education prior to future elections.

According to CODEO however, “the problems and lapses in the voting process on December 7 which resulted in the adjournment of the process did not fundamentally undermine the overall integrity of the conduct of the polling, of counting and collation of ballots… In spite of the logistical and technical challenges, CODEO is of the view that the December Presidential and General elections have been well conducted.”

We’ve said before, training electoral workers and informing the public is a HUGE part of the challenge of implementing biometric elections. It’s also one of the most expensive parts — more expensive than the technology (if done correctly), even in places with low labor costs.

Biometrics, like elections, are about people. So, congratulations to the people of Ghana on the success of the biometric voter enrollment and verification project.

Ghana Votes

Skimming the early reports, it appears that some number of polling places opened late due to some logistical issues and some people who presented themselves at the polls were not able to pass muster with the biometric verification.

The Ghana News Agency (GNA) is doing a lot of data-centered reporting from a lot of polling places scattered around the country. Their Politics page is here.

Here’s a good example of what GNA is reporting:

Peaceful voting so far but not without hitches (GNA)

A thorough analysis of the biometric voter systems’ performance is, of course, going to have to wait.

[9:30 EST]
Good background story at Modern Ghana from Accra, the capital: Ghana votes in tightly contested presidentials poll.

While many polling stations opened on time, a number started late due to the delayed delivery of materials, causing frustration among voters and officials. Voter biometric fingerprinting was also being used for the first time.

[9:40 EST]
Ghana Web also has a good page: Ghana Elections Updates: Five Presidential Candidates Vote. Scroll down to the bottom for minute-by-minute updates from different places — a woman going into labor and voting with her sister before going to the hospital, politicians voting, technical problems, etc. The earliest updates are at the bottom.

Ghana: Day before election, the focus is on politics

Ghana: Election Fever Grips the Nation (All Africa)

On the day before Ghana’s sixth presidential election, the issue of the biometric voter system has faded into the background and the issues that more typically surround elections have come to the forefront.

The Electoral Commission, the biometric system vendor, Ghanaian citizens in general and citizens of other aspiring democracies will certainly be hoping that continues to be the case over the next few days.

Ghana election context

ID management is about people.

The following article about Ghana isn’t about biometrics but it provides some of the context in which Friday’s biometric (registration and verification) elections will occur this Friday.

Biometrics have helped put rigorous ID management systems within the reach of organizations that couldn’t obtain them before.

Coup era over, Ghana showcases African democracy (Las Vegas Sun)

“The reason Ghanaians are so drawn to democracy,” analyst Jonah said, “is because they have seen that democracy in Western countries has brought a very high level of development, and they want to be like America, they want to be like Britain.”

He said that if the rulers can deliver the services the people need, “Then people will say, `OK, democracy isn’t just every four years selecting people. Democracy also brings development.'”

Ghana announces steps toward fingerprint passports

Biometric Passport Project Launched (Ghana.gov)

The Biometric Passport – This passport captures a holder’s facial features especially the iris as well as biometric data of finger-prints which link the holder to the passport. The mode of application and acquisition is that the owner’s biometric data is initially covered and later verified to ensure the right ownership on delivery. Biometric data of finger-prints, eyes and hand geometry are scientifically person-specific and scarcely vary in the life time of individual human beings.

Civil group publishes report on Ghana biometric voter registration

Coalition of Domestic Election Observers (CODEO) final Statement nationwide Biometric Voter Registration exercise (Citifm Online)

The goal of CODEO’s BVR observation was to promote a credible voter registration in Ghana, which is accurate and will contribute to peaceful election outcomes. With the generous assistance from the United Kingdom Department of International Development (DfID):

CODEO recruited, trained and deployed a total of 650 of its members to observe the entire BVR registration exercise. This observation covered a random sample of 600 registration centers drawn from 300 Electoral Areas in 100 districts in all 10 regions of Ghana. In order to obtain a nationally representative sample, key consideration was given to the total number of registration centers in each of the 10 Regions in the country and the same was repeated at the regional, district and electoral area levels. This allowed CODEO to obtain a true picture of the BVR exercise nationwide over the four phases of the exercise.

Their findings are likely of interest to others contemplating very large scale identity management deployments.

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