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.'”

UPDATE… Ukraine: New passport law, no fingerprint for now


Yanukovych signs law on biometric passports (Kyiv Post)

The document foresees the introduction of electronic passports containing electronic chips with biometric information for traveling abroad, according to standards of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).

According to the law, the passports of Ukrainian citizens will be produced in the form of cards with contactless smart chips and issued no later than 30 calendar days from the date of the submission of a relevant application. The electronic passports will include the name of the state, the name of the document, the full name of the holder, the holder’s gender, citizenship, date of birth, and a unique number in the register, the number of the document, the date of the document’s expiry, the date of issue of the document, the name of the agency that issued the document, the place of birth, a photo and the signature of the holder.

I was going to write the post title as “Ukraine: New passport law, no biometrics for now,” but ID photos are biometrics.

This press release says that the Ukraine passport will, in fact, contain fingerprints. It states, in part:

Ukraine approved the introduction of electronic IDs and creation of the state demographic register in the country. The relevant law, signed today by President Yanukovych, will take effect on January 1st, 2013. It stipulates the introduction of the documents for traveling abroad that have a built-in proximity chip with registry information on the holder. The IDs will comply with the standards recommended by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).

It will take 30 days to produce such an ID, which will hold information about name, sex, citizenship, birth date and place of residence of a person, their photo, signature, and additional biometric data, as well as issue and expiration dates. The law clarifies that digitalized signature and photograph of a person’s face constitute main biometric data, while digitalized fingerprints are additional biometric data. [emphasis mine]

Aside from buttressing the point made above about that face photos are biometrics, the release strongly hints that fingerprint biometrics will be a part of the new passport. If that’s the case, the fact was omitted from yesterday’s Kyiv Post piece. Perhaps the press release contains enough ambuguity to interpret both pieces as accurate.

We’ll keep an eye out for new information.

Farm Bureau working group suggests biometric Ag Card for migrant workers

Would an ‘ag card’ labor proposal work for agriculture? (Western Farm Press)

To help alleviate labor shortages in U.S. agriculture, an American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) working group has proposed work authorization for “a limited population of key workers that have agricultural experience and will continue to work in agriculture to remain in status on what we call an ‘ag card,’” says Kristi Boswell, AFBF director of congressional relations.

The card would be biometric and carried by migrant laborers to prove work authorization.

At least the kids can’t vote twice – Ghana edition

Minors Captured In Biometric Voter Register A Big Challenge For EC – Dr Afari-Gyan (

He said the biometric verification machine cannot determine who is a minor or a foreigner and that examination of images of those captured during the biometric registration shows that minors were registered all over the country.

This brings up several ID issues.

Since there is no precise physiological indication of age, it is important to register children when they are born.

Some non-trivial proportion of the world’s individuals don’t actually know how old they are.

What policies were in place during the voter registration process?

It’s almost impossible to conceive that the enrollment software didn’t in some way note the electoral worker responsible for each enrollment. Is there any correlation between the registrants that seem obviously to be around twelve years old and the worker responsible for the registration?

On the positive side, with a well-functioning biometric voter system at least the kids can’t vote twice.

At Least the Kids Can’t Vote Twice in ARMM, Philippines
Biometrics “Fix” Identity


Africa: Other biometric elections

KENYA: IEBC Briefs Kibaki on Poll Preparedness (All Africa).
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, I’d say, even in places with low labor costs.

CAMEROON: Keeping the veil on women’s electoral participation (News Day)
“Allowing women to get national identity cards could also be potentially upsetting for men who want absolute control over their wives.” We’ve made the point here over and over that a legitimate ID is a prerequisite to full participation in the modern world. It seems our point of view is widely shared.

SIERRA LEONE: 2012 Election: A test democracy (In Depth Africa)
The election will be the first since the end of the 11-year war in 2002 to be conducted entirely by the Sierra Leone government. The country’s 2.6 million voters were registered for the first time on a biometric system to prevent multiple voting and avoid electoral fraud. The Guardian (UK) also has a useful article on the stakes in Saturday’s Sierra Leone election.

What about the United States?

So, having put Africa under the microscope (above, here & here) how is the United States doing?

America’s election process an international embarrassment (CNN)

America has one of the world’s most antique, politicized and dysfunctional procedures for its elections. A crazy quilt patchwork of state and local laws with partisan officials making key decisions and ancient technology that often breaks down. There are no national standards. American voters in more than a dozen states, for example, don’t need ID. But even India, with a GDP just 12 percent that of ours, is implementing a national biometric database for 1.2 billion voters. The nascent democracy in Iraq famously dipped voters’ fingers in purple to ensure they didn’t vote again. Why are we so behind the curve?


Hospital Patient ID

St. Peter’s Hospital moves to biometric patient ID (Independent Record – Helena, MT)

St. Peter’s Hospital has begun using a biometric identification system it says will eliminate the need for patients to show identification with each visit while improving the certainty that medical providers will access the medical records of the correct patient.

See (listen) also this interview: Biometric Patient ID Technology with M2SYS President, Michael Trader (HIT Consultant)

Lots of good discussion of the ROI available to health care providers through biometric patient ID.

India: Direct cash transfers for welfare beginning January 1

Aadhaar-based cash transfer in 51 districts (Hindustan Times)

The government will launch direct cash transfer in 51 districts from 1 January and cover the entire country by April 2014, just ahead of the next Lok Sabha elections. The Prime Minister’s Office on Friday cleared the roadmap to implement the UPA-2’s ambitious project that could see the government crediting nearly Rs. 2,000 billion — around 40 % of Centre’s plan budget — straight into bank accounts of millions of beneficiaries of government schemes across the country.

For some background on the pilot projects and how they have gone, check out this article at the Deccan Herald. The headline is pretty harsh but the article is very thorough.

Exciting times for UID and India.

Cash, with strings

Why India should hand out cash, rather than fuel and food, to the needy (The Economist)

As other countries have discovered, handing out cash is more efficient and less susceptible to corruption than handing out food or subsidising fuel. But as long as many of India’s 1.2 billion people lacked proper identification, let alone bank accounts, cash transfers were impracticable.

Now technology offers a powerful solution. A huge project is getting millions of Indians biometrically identified and opening accounts for them. Nandan Nilekani, an IT billionaire who is the brains behind it, expects that by the end of 2014 600m Indians will be enrolled, creating the infrastructure for a system of cash welfare.

The Economist has been consistent in its support of UID and welfare reform in India.

UPDATE: More from The Economist
Money where your mouth is: A debate is growing about how to get welfare to the needy

UPDATE: Interoperability, the Emirates ID & Social Media

ID card was supposed to make things easier (7 Days in Dubai)

I went to update my eGate card only to be told that they can’t use our UAE ID cards because they don’t have the machines to accept the cards.

I thought paying out all that money for ID cards was to help out with situations if you didn’t have your passport with you. What’s going on?

Two things of note here…

If “Confused, UAE” is typical, customers/users/stakeholders are beginning to expect interoperability as far as ID systems go.

The social media presence of the Emirates ID people is impressive. The Emirates ID Authority found this post a day after it went up and used the site’s comments section to offer assistance to the individual having problems. That’s pretty cool.

Twitter: @EmiratesID

The people at the Emirates ID Authority were kind enough to direct my attention to web resources explaining how Emiratis (citizens and residents) can add e-gate service to their Emirates ID for use at all UAE airports.

@securlinx Good morning, please be advised that you can activate the e-gate service on the Emirates ID card and use it .. Cont.
— Emirates ID (@EmiratesID) November 8, 2012

@securlinx over all UAE airports. Please find more about e-gate service on:
— Emirates ID (@EmiratesID) November 8, 2012

They’re saying that the e-gates and the national ID systems are, in fact, interoperable.

The question, however, of why the holder of an Emirates ID must proactively link their ID to the e-gate system remains. So let’s take a look at what automatic recognition of every Emirates ID at e-gates would mean.

For all Emirates ID’s to work automatically and by default with all e-gates at all UAE airports with a high degree of security and accuracy, the UAE central ID database would have to either:

(1) be available to hardware (e-gates) located at all airports at all times (in order to compare information on the card with information in the database) or

(2) regularly update all e-gate hardware with copies of parts of the central database information (the parts relevant to travel) on all residents at all UAE airports.

There are actually some pretty good reasons you might not want to do either of these things, database security first and foremost among them. Regarding a national ID central database, a conservative approach to information sharing would yield an attitude that the least amount of information should be shared that still allows the desired service to be provided. Right now that seems to mean that only a small slice of information held by the Emirates ID Authority about a small slice of the population is shared to the e-gate system on an opt-in basis.

Like we occasionally say around here, ID management technology is a powerful tool. The management part is very important though. People — human managers and decision makers — give its use meaning. Perhaps one day ID information will be shared ubiquitously and securely to provide extremely high levels of citizen services without requiring much if any forethought from individuals. It looks like that’s the way the world is heading, however haltingly. But it’s also easy to see why a government, especially an early adopting one, would want to take a step by step approach toward getting there.

Of course, one could still quibble with other management decisions such as the fees or the extra bureaucratic step involved, but that’s a question of how, rather than why.

I’ll also repeat my earlier praise for the Emirates ID social media presence.
@EmiratesID (by our own experience) and @EmiratesID_Help (by all appearances) are both highly engaged and responsive ways for the public both inside and outside the UAE to learn more about and interact with the Emirates ID Authority.


I’m afraid I was understood by @EmiratesID to be saying the opposite of what I meant as the update above prompted this response:

@securlinx Thank you for sharing your article & feedback with us. On the contrary to your view, there are a few who find this service…cont
— Emirates ID (@EmiratesID) November 11, 2012

@securlinx …useful and beneficial, considering that we are moving forward with our technology and offered services.
— Emirates ID (@EmiratesID) November 11, 2012

That’s not contrary to our view, at all. We take @EmiratesID at its word that “there are a few who find this service useful and beneficial…” In fact, I’m quite sure they’re being modest.

Of course, some complaints are inevitable with ID and airports. I don’t wish to elevate one person’s confusion as the issue. The interesting things about the 7 Days in Dubai piece that inspired this post are the questions it provokes about how high-tech ID systems work, why they work the way they do, and the importance of efforts to help and explain things to stakeholders.

For the e-gates to work in the way that “Confused, UAE” expected, database practices that many would consider unwise would have to be put into place. Given that the technology is new and that the UAE is an early adopter of a more high-tech approach to ID, it is important to strike a proper balance between convenience and service on the one hand and data security on the other. The Emirates ID Authority is by all appearances serious about striking that balance and possess the abilities to do so. It is therefore not surprising in the least that many (even the vast majority) of Emiratis find the technology and services offered by the Emirates ID Authority extremely useful and beneficial.

I am aware of no evidence that the EmiratesID Authority is “doing it wrong” and there is plenty of evidence  that they are doing it right. That includes their responsiveness as an organization and I thank them for it.

[Edit: In the case that someone at EmiratesID (or anyone else for that matter) wants to respond more expansively than allowed by Twitter’s 140 character limit, I can be reached at and would love to hear from you.]

UID isn’t painless but neither is the status quo

India risks backlash hurrying through Aadhaar project

The pilot project in Beelaheri, a village of 2,000 people some 130 km (81 miles) southwest of Delhi, replaces kerosene subsidies with cash rebates and has been running since December. It has massively lowered demand for the subsidized fuel, which weighs on government finances.

But teething problems are immediately visible.

The headline’s a bit harsh but the piece is well worth reading in its entirety.

More on the UK’s new Identity Assurance Approah

Identity, Privacy and Trust: How I learned to stop worrying and love identity assurance (Computer Weekly)

The past week has seen a surge in media coverage of the government’s new Identity Assurance (IDA) programme, as the Department for Work & Pensions prepares to announce the first group of Identity Providers (IDPs) to be awarded services under their procurement framework. Those who know me will be aware that I played a minor role in trying to persuade the last government to change it’s plans for ID Cards, and that I became known as an opponent to that scheme; but for the past two years I’ve been engaged by the Post Office to support the shaping activities around the the development of the Identity Assurance programme.

So what persuaded me that IDA is a good idea?

Read the whole thing.

UPDATED: Ukraine, Biometric Passports and the Politics of ID

Yanukovych: Ukraine to fulfill obligations on introduction of biometric passports (Kyiv Post)

Ukraine has had a hard time with implementing a biometric passport.

First, there are real and compelling reasons for adopting a new document standard for passports that uses a chip to hold information (including biometric information). Defense against document fraud, human trafficking and other types of organized crime spring immediately to mind.

Then there is the pressure from Europe to modernize ID documents. Because of Europe’s huge market, cultural importance and proximity to many non-EU countries, there is a lot of international travel to and from the EU. At the same time, the relative wealth of the EU countries compared to the countries with which they share land borders creates incentives for extra-legal behavior (immigration, smuggling, organized crime, etc.) that might be lowered by adopting more rigorous ID management practices.

The EU is driving its end of the bargain by harmonizing travel and ID practices within the EU (plus a few other countries; see Schengen Area) and offering visa-free travel to citizens of countries that make it easier to administer cross-border traffic through better document technology and law enforcement cooperation.

So what’s not to like?

ID documents are, of course, extremely political. They are also a source of revenue to the authorities that issue them and the companies that supply the materials, services, or the manufacturing related to them.

For the nation of Ukraine and Ukrainians who are frequent international travelers successful passport modernization would be a good deal with the state collecting fees that frequent travelers can afford to pay and who are, in turn, compensated with smoother border crossings. Ukrainians who don’t, won’t or can’t travel would be left alone.

So what’s not to like?

Ordinary Ukrainians weren’t sure about the second part and the international travelers weren’t sure about the first part.

A year ago, the deliberations on ID document modernization in Ukraine took place under a cloud of suspicion that the new document wouldn’t actually move the country to visa free travel to Europe, would cost a lot, and since Ukrainians already carry domestic passports, foreign passports, social identity cards, identity cards for insured people, pension certificates, certificates of persons with disabilities, and driving licenses, many (enough, apparently) suspected that the true impetus behind the effort was just another opportunity to collect fees and/or throw a new contract to a connected firm and they worried that the effort might not be limited to international travel documents.

Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych vetoed the effort of last year and the initiative seems to have been resurrected as something resembling the more optimal approach described in theory above.

It’s not a done deal yet but it looks like Ukraine is making progress.

NOTE: This post has been modified slightly from the original version to add clarity.

Valeriy Khoroshkovskiy is the first deputy prime minister of Ukraine. Perhaps more relevant to our discussion here, he also used to run the State Customs Service.

His piece today in the Kyiv Post is much lengthier than other treatments of Ukraine’s regional integration efforts which tend to be very narrowly focused.

In it, he discusses in more detail many of the topics we touched on above, including:

  • Visa free regime with the EU; 
  • Biometric passports;
  • Other identity documents;
  • Human trafficking;
  • and the flip-side of organized crime, corruption.

International Day of the Girl

Today is the Day of the Girl, internationally recognized by the United Nations.

Map: What Countries Have the Worst Gender Gaps? 
Plus, a simple yet powerful solution to help close the gender gap. (

Here’s how our proposed solution works: Use biometric identification, such as digital finger prints or retina scans, to give girls a formal economic identity and make sure they are counted and served by new policies and programs. Then build on advances in electronic payments and mobile money, which allow automatic provision of financial services via a digital platform or mobile device. This helps make sure the girls—not corrupt government officials or pesky relatives, for example—receive aid money. Transfer dollars electronically through systems linked directly to savings accounts owned and operated by the girls. Finally, tap into behavioral economics, which shows that simple “nudges” can lead to savings habits, asset accumulation, and investments in education, health and enterprise.

As we’ve said before, you can’t be a fully functioning member of the modern world without a legitimate ID.

Israel: Interior ministry wants tourists’ biometrics

Israel to create tourist biometric database? (Ynetnews) According to Interior Ministry proposal, visitors refusing to provide fingerprints will be banned entry.

Pretty soon everyone will be doing this; Ghana already does something similar at the Accra airport. I can’t see why Israel would issue tourists an ID card though . On the one hand, isn’t that what a passport is for? On the other, if they’re collecting biometrics why not use them?

Hope for a Grand Bargain among India’s ID Bureaucracies

PAN, AADHAAR, NPR govt looks at grand alliance (Business Standard)

The thought of making PAN the national identification number has lost its fizz but the government is now taking steps to link it to AADHAAR and NPR (National Population Register).

A provision has already been made to provide AADHAAR number allotted by the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) to the Indian citizens in PAN application Form 49A on voluntary basis.

The existing PAN holders can also add information of their AADHAAR number to the I-T department while applying for a new PAN card or making some changes or correction in their existing PAN details.

The Registrar General and Census Commissioner of India also proposed to the Central Board of Direct Taxes (CBDT) recently to link PAN with NPR. Under the proposal, Ministry of Home Affairs will store PAN information along with the NPR data on the smart card to be issued as Resident Identity Cards.

That just might be crazy enough to work.

UID Update

It has been a while since we’ve had occasion to talk about India’s UID project and the Times of India has published a couple of articles that refocus our attention on it.

The two Times of India articles illuminate the way forward for UID. The first one linked below is very detailed and explains the bureaucratic arrangement between UID and the NPR (National Population Register) as well as the general outline for the permanent status of the initiative.

The second covers similar ground from a more sensationalist perspective. Both are worth reading because they rely on different sets of facts.

The third article linked below shows why UID is so important to India’s development. The goal of universal electric and natural gas service is only achievable in an environment of accountability fostered by a system where everybody has an ID.

Stand up for the count, no escaping the card (Times of India) 

In case you’re scared of missing the Aadhaar bus, count on the National Population Register camps.

The state Directorate of Census Operations and the UID Implementation Committee will set up permanent NPR centres for those left out in the first or second phase of data collection. The directorate, with its limited funds, has been publicising the compulsory registration for NPR, of which Aadhaar is a crucial part. But several residents have either been left out or have opted out because they don’t yet understand how important it is to be counted.

“NPR will continue forever, because every child over five years must be enrolled…”

Got Aadhaar number? Now wait for the real card (Times of India) 

Elated to be one of the “fortunate” few to have received the 12-digit Aadhaar number? Call us a spoilsport but it isn’t of much use. The glossy strip of paper is certainly not “the card” that everyone has been talking about for nearly five years.

Bengal is not among the 19 states where the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) directly issues the Aadhaar numbers. If you live in this state, your UID number has to be ratified by the Census Directorate before it is embossed on a Resident Identity Card (RIC). That’s at least two years away.

As of now, the UID lies as the victim of flawed policy. Those who had their fingerprints taken and retinas scanned a year ago are clueless about what happens next.

Affordable electricity for all in next 5 years: Manmohan Singh (Business Today)

He said in one pilot scheme in Mysore district of Karnataka, 27,000 deliveries of subsidised cylinders have been made after successful biometric authentication of any family member present at home.

“In the next phase it is planned to transfer the subsidy amount directly to the bank accounts of bona fide beneficiaries,” he said.