Monday 17 January 2011

Nigeria: INEC - One finger is enough 10 fingers is insanity

Edited and updated.

One little finger, thank you

I think it is time to get beyond unnecessary analysis to the practicalities of the matter of what improvement in data-quality is offered by having 10 fingerprints or one thumbprint as part of the biometric identification for the Nigerian voter registration exercise.

One is at a loss for the why 10 fingerprints are necessary, it appears a demonstration of the digital data capture process had excited the decision-makers that they went for the full capability of the system rather than weighing in very crucial factors of speed, efficiency, throughput, validity and uniqueness.

Evidence is usual not 10 fingers

Over a hundred years of usage, fingerprint evidence has helped criminology well and though DNA analysis seems to have become a finer tool for forensic criminology, it has not completely obviated the need fingerprint capture at the crime scene.

Generally, the 10 fingers are only captured for police documents or in this age of paranoia regarding terrorism at certain points of entry around the globe.

I hate to think that this voter registration exercise has been sold to the election commission as a dual-purpose function to be shared with the security agencies in Nigeria and probably the Interpol; which for all intents and purposes can be very helpful to crime solving, but it should not have featured at all in the primary exercise of voter registration.

The issue of civil liberties probably has not gained enough traction as to the sensitivity of this kind of data, who would eventually have access to it, how it would be secured, if citizens have right of access to modify or delete their information and much more.

Which finger did it bite?

In the scheme of things when one reads of reports of registrants failing to obtain the fingerprint differentiator as part of their voter registration exercise because the 10th finger does not scan frustration is compounded.

So far, we have read that the ex-president of Nigeria and the current Senate president have been unable to obtain their voter registration cards, it is not clear if this is because none of their fingers could be scanned or some could not be scanned.

That is beside the point, the registration exercise has so many points of failure and has been made unduly complicated that it offers the opportunity to truncate or circumvent the process.

Bad data awaiting good challenge

My fear is that vexatious litigious politicians who are too regularly up to mischief might put a spanner in the works by requiring all voter registrations without the cumbersome and unnecessary 10-fingerprint excess of data be voided either at the voter registration review or after voting is exercised if they feel they can gain some political advantage.

It is incumbent on INEC to revisit this issue immediately and recalibrate the system whilst issuing new instructions only to do a single thumb capture. It is not like Nigerians are prone to losing their fingers that by April, they might need another finger to authenticate themselves at the time of voting.

Reality strikes

The other matter that has not been addressed is how this data would be retrieved at the time of voting, would the registrant have to check each finger against the database or would one finger suffice?

The absurdity of this whole thing only becomes so evident by looking at how the data would supposedly be put to use, how much processing is needed to check one finger out of 10 for a matching finger or all fingers in a particular order.

We do not need complex solutions for simple actions, the voters register does not have to match the security requirement for atomic-grade weapons activation or access to the Fort Knox vaults – in my humble opinion, this 10 finger salute to authentication is an overkill and that does not begin to describe that waste of time, resources and productivity that defines what could easily be a more efficient way of doing easy tasks.

Let us be smart about this – ONE THUMB is enough 10 fingers is madness raised to the power of insanity.


Fingerprint - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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