A PILOT to test the use of facial recognition software in elections for the first time in India has met with roughly 65 to 86 per cent success rate. The Telangana government had tested the software during municipal elections held on January 22.
A top official of the State-owned Telangana State Technology Services (TSTS) that helmed the project said that of the total 7,200 eligible voters in the 10 polling booths in Kompally Municipality of the Medchal-Malkajgiri district where the project was implemented on January 22, roughly 4,200 voters were photographed for matching with their voter I-cards. The negative matches occurred because of dim lighting in the booths as well as old or poor quality of voter ID photographs, the official said.
Facial recognition was used as an additional check, and negative results did not deny anyone a vote.
As part of the experiment, voter ID card data was fed into the system, the 10 selected booths received a new smartphone each, and a Telangana State Election Commission (SEC) official took a photo of every voter that walked into these booths. The algorithm checked the photo with the voter ID photo and gave a green or red checkmark. An SEC circular, dated January 18, announcing the experiment had said all photos would be deleted after the election and all transmissions were encrypted.
Regulation on use awaited
There is no regulation governing the use of facial data by the government currently. A data protection Bill that would give the State broad exemptions to process citizens’ data is being analysed by a Joint Select Committee in Parliament.
“The SEC’s idea was that checking impersonation, proxy voting and duplicate voters should be done through a system. We believe that as a technology, we have established that it works. It needs to be fine-tuned, but there were no glitches in the technology,” the TSTS official said.
The SEC gave a go-ahead to the pilot after seeing the success rate of the digital identity authentication system used in the state to establish that pensioners receiving government benefits are still alive, without any in-person visit. That system has an accuracy rate of roughly 94 per cent, an official said.
Out of the 2.6 lakh pensioners in Telangana, roughly 29,000 (or 11 per cent) have used the application, the official said. Other states such as Haryana as well as the Central government have shown interest in adopting the system.
In its January 18 circular, the SEC said, “Impersonations are still noticed during polls, in spite of the use of photo-electoral rolls, insistence of photo ID card for each voter and, above all, having polling agents of different candidates present at polling stations. An analysis of the cases of tendered votes recorded during the previous elections to local bodies in the state revealed that in each of those cases, there was a violation of voting procedure leading to conduct of re-polls in all those cases… The gravity of the situation can be better appreciated if one considers the ASD (Absentee, Shifted, or Dead) voters; these lists are known to local persons and there are ample opportunities to resort to impersonation in those cases.”
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