Thursday, May 26, 2011

Iris Recognition Technology to Prevent Impersonation in Elections

Even though all systems of government have merits and demerits, democracy is the most preferred system of modern world. The most important aspect of democracy is the provision of adult franchise which ensures that any citizen who has attained a predetermined age (18 years in India) can cast his vote in favour of a contesting candidate of his choice. The authorities responsible for conducting elections in a free and fair manner often find the problem of impersonation a very difficult one. In India, which is the world’s largest democracy, voter identity cards have been issued by the Election Commission to check the problem of bogus voters. By making the use of such identity cards mandatory in elections, the problem of impersonation has been reduced to a large extent. But the present system is not fool proof.
I’ll cite certain situations in which even the identity card is of no use in preventing impersonation.
Suppose bogus voter A resembles genuine voter B. In this case A can use the identity card of B to cast the vote of B. Even if the bogus voter A does not resemble the genuine voter B, he can cast the vote of B if the polling agents in the polling station do not challenge the identity of A. This can happen either because of the carelessness on the part of the polling agent or because of the fear of the consequences, especially if the impersonation is resorted to for a party that has little regard for democratic values. The officials appointed by the election commission may not interfere in situations where no formal challenge is raised by a polling agent present in the polling station.
What I want to point out is the possibility and scope for impersonation even when the authorities responsible for the conduct of free and fair elections take great pains in doing their duty as per law to the best of their ability. It is here that technology helps them to prevent loop holes of the type I pointed out above. What I mean is the iris recognition technology to identify genuine voters and to prevent impersonation.
Iris is the circular coloured (usually brown or blue) membrane behind the cornea of the eye, with a central opening (pupil) to admit light. The iris carries an astonishing amount of information that distinguishes one iris from another. The iris patterns of the left eye and the right eye of the same individual are different. No two individuals (including identical twins) have the same iris pattern and this is why the iris pattern recognition technology is unique in personal identification. The iris remains stable through out an individual’s life time from an age of about one year.
Serious work in the field of iris recognition technology was started by the mid 1980s. Today it has become a fool proof technology which is far superior to finger print recognition technology. The iris recognition system stores a digital image of the iris in an encrypted form so that the pattern is immune to frauds. The image of the iris is obtained with an iris scanner which uses harmless infra red rays so that the subject does not feel any discomfort. When an identity check is required, a digital image of the iris of the subject is obtained using the eye scanner and the coded pattern is compared with the iris pattern stored in the data base. Currently there are many iris recognition systems in use in environments requiring identity verification such as ATMs and air ports.
I was prompted to write this post here when I came across the news that the New York based company Hoyos Group has unveiled the world’s first iris scanning device available on the mass market. Hoyos claims that it is the first company to fully develop iris recognition for consumer use. The size of the device is less than that of a business card and it is available in the form of a USB drive.
In India elections to the House of People (Lok Sabha), Legislative Assemblies (of the states) and numerous bodies at the Village, Block and District levels are conducted using electronic voting machines. Identity cards with photos are issued to voters to facilitate easy identification. The voter identity cards can be dispensed with if the iris pattern codes of the voters are stored in the electronic voting machine. The iris scanning device can be used at the polling station and the voting machine can be set to accept the vote only if the iris pattern of the voter matches with the pattern stored in the data base of the voting machine. The system can be programmed to accept just one vote from a voter. This procedure will save a lot of problems at the polling station and will contribute quite significantly towards the conduct of elections in a free and fair manner. I am sure this technology will have to be used in many situations sooner or later.
You can see another post related to elections here.

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