Digital identity verification, authentication and validation in the 2021 election must be transparent warns Unwanted Witness.

Kampala, 16th/09/2020: Unwanted Witness today joins the rest of the world in marking the International Identity Day in recognition of United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal 16 “Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions” and objective 9 which calls for legal identity for all.

With an official identity, Ugandans can exercise their rights and access important public services such as, voting among others. Achieving this goal requires the record of important events in a person’s life such as voter registration, which is a core part of a free and fair electoral process.

As we head towards the 2021 general elections, it’s critical to assess the important role digital identity plays in empowering individuals to exercise their rights and responsibilities fairly and equitably in the entire electoral process at different points of voter verification, validation and authentication.

In 2016, the Electoral Commission (EC) incorporated technology in the electronic transmission of electoral results, the Biometric Voter Verification System (BVVS), and the National Voters Register verification and validation which is done against the National Information Register (NIR).

We believe that without a transparent and accountable report scrutinized by all stakeholders on the authenticity of the automated voters’ register, the 2021 elections risk being out rightly rejected by those defeated as not being free and fair on the basis of “ghost voters.”

The National Voters’ Register as a functional identity system should be cleaned to clearly show the number of new voters, deceased, left the country or denounced citizenship barked up by an audit report.

“Digital electoral fraud can occur in advance if alterations in the composition of the electorates’ personal data is not well correlated with that in the National Information Register as a foundational identity system. Even though biometric technology is advanced by governments as a form of identity verification, it cannot independently prevent multiple registration if the data is not audited to prevent duplication” said Dorothy Mukasa, the Executive Director of Unwanted Witness.

“Although digital technology goes a long way in reducing electoral expenditure and fraud, if not used or implemented in a transparent manner, it’s bound to affect the integrity of the entire electoral process” added Dorothy Mukasa

Protecting the computer-based hardware and software before and after vote casting is essential for election integrity because all of these technologies are vulnerable to digital attacks relying on  personal data manipulation which may be virtually undetectable, by election staff or observers without specialist training

As we head towards the 2021 general elections the Electoral Commission (EC), the Ministry of ICT and National Guidance should ensure that any regulatory response must be as dynamic as the technological mischief it seeks to contain.

Unwanted Witness therefore implores the Electoral Commission (EC), the Ministry of ICT and National Guidance to ensure the following:

  1. Processing and sharing of biometric data, must be prescribed by law and limited to that strictly and demonstrably necessary to achieve a legitimate aim of conducting a transparent election. The interoperability between National Information Register and Electoral Commission data base must be done within the limits of International human rights law
  2. Technology companies providing this identity verification and election transmission software must be subject to certification standards by the Ministry of ICT. The companies must design digital identity verification systems that are adaptable to long-term needs, ensure demand, robustness and integrity prioritizing end-user needs. Sourcing of these companies must be done with open standards through a competitive and transparent bidding process to avoid vendor lock in.
  3. The Data protection and Privacy Act, 2019 mandates, must be upheld by the National Information Registration Authority to ensure that during the verification exercise and sharing of data for the Third Party Interface, guidelines must strictly be followed by the Electoral Commission, further processing of this data should be prohibited and sanctionable taming cases of “function creep” a trail that is lucrative during election periods.
  4. Using Digital ID for identification, verification, authorization or authentication on voting day can lead to exclusion since there are risks associated with biometrics and technology failure hence, the Electoral Commission must provide for offline alternative mechanisms so that no eligible voter is denied their voting rights.
  5. The National Identification and Registration Authority must ensure that all registered voters receive their identification cards before the forthcoming elections including those who attain the voting age and those who will reach voting age between the times of registration and polling day. Using the available media platforms, communication should be made to the ID owners to pick their cards from the nearest points preferably at the sub county or parish levels.
  6. Given the existing vulnerabilities to the e-electoral processes like fraud, new technology should be open source allowing thorough testing and certification for use not only by manufacturers but also by an independent and competent body consisting of technical experts and outside persons, such as activists, observers who are keen to highlight flaws overlooked by official testing bodies.

The resiliency of the electoral infrastructure and results will depend on the efficiency of the technical systems in e-voting complying with the principles of democratic elections and referendums as well as ensuring that human beings involved in all parts of the e-electoral ecosystem are trained in cyber security and user best practices.

About Unwanted Witness

The Unwanted Witness is a civil society organization (CSO) that was established to respond to the gap in effective communication using various online expression platforms. Unwanted Witness envisions the highest standards in protecting and promotion of digital rights in Uganda.