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A commentary by the State Electoral Office on the implementation of facial recognition in i-elections

20.11.2020

Minister of Foreign Trade and Information Technology Raul Siem has raised the issue of the identification of voters by camera in i-voting (in Estonian).

The current law enables voting by ID-card and mobile ID and does not set a requirement of additional verification based on facial recognition or other biometric data.

Up to now, i-voting has been based on the principle that transfer of a person’s digital identity is prohibited; among other things, this constitutes election fraud.

The Penal Code also now provides for a sanction for the use of another person’s identity, and a report on a criminal offence can be submitted to the police if any such incident is known.

In the case where a voter has not been able to vote freely he or she can also vote again either electronically or by ballot paper. In order to ensure that, the Riigikogu has also made amendments to the Acts concerning elections so that, starting from 2021, it will be possible to change one’s i-vote until the end of voting in the evening of election day.

The implementation of facial recognition in i-elections will first require a thorough security analysis and then an improvement of the voter application and i-voting systems. For the implementation of a facial recognition system, extensive changes would need to be made to the online election software.

For security considerations, the voter application’s access to the hardware of the voter’s computer and additional software has been minimised. For facial recognition, the voter application would have to be allowed to use the voter’s web camera.

In the future, it will definitely be possible to introduce additional verification mechanisms to identify persons.

At the same time, however, the overall availability of i-voting will also have to be ensured. In the case of the proposal under discussion, this would require the availability of a web camera, which may not be accessible to all voters (for example, people who use desktop computers). ID-card and mobile ID, however, are available to anybody interested.

In the future, facial recognition could be linked up to the creation of the option of voting on smart device.