As we approach the 2016 American presidential election, a spectre from 2006 has started moaning in the background: The electronic voting machines that Diebold built for the U.S., which have turned out to be easily hackable, and have basically not been fixed since then. And there is legitimate concern that hackers may tamper with those electronic voting machines, and skew enough votes to throw such an expected-to-be-close presidential election.
The problem is that the memory on those machines can easily by tapped into and individual votes can be manipulated in numerous ways. This is relatively easy because the machines store only the votes, not the info about who made them, in order to preserve the voters’ ability to cast a ballot anonymously. And not that there’s anything fundamentally wrong with that… but given the existing ease in corrupting electronic votes, anonymity at that voting booth has become a luxury the system can no longer afford.
I’ve argued before about the need to embrace biometric identification systems for daily security; and I’d say the American voting system is the most important example of a security point that needs it, to do no less than safeguard the democratic process of the nation.
It’s unfortunate that most Americans distrust biometric identification… not because it’s more secure, but because they are afraid their biometric IDs will somehow be hacked into by ne’er-do-wells. Some of this fear may be realistic, depending on how the biometric data is stored and applied at some points-of-sale. But much of it is a mostly media-fueled terror that thugs will be running around cutting off peoples’ fingers or plucking out their eyeballs to use at the ATM. (And yeah, ATM security cams will never notice that.)
But in fact, really secure systems can make biometric hacking virtually impossible (that is, too much trouble to make it worth anyone’s while to attempt). To begin with, the latest technology will recognize 3-D biometric info, making simple (and fake-able) surface scans useless; they can also tell the difference between live and dead body parts, and live voices as opposed to recordings. Verification points with this technology will be virtually impossible to spoof in realtime. Multiple-point verification is easier, and can be applied anywhere an extra level of security is needed. And if there is a discrepancy, transactions can be tagged to silently alert the authorities, or simply hold the transaction until it can be confirmed or cancelled later. For those who are afraid of being held hostage at an ATM until they deliver the goods, they will be able to carry out the transaction, then be released and cancel the transaction in a place of safety.
We even have a more secure system than the electronic voting booth, ready for use: The cellphone. Cellphones already carry out verifiable transactions for us, which include transaction IDs, and can be set to send a verification signal to a second location to affirm or cancel transactions. Add biometric verification to phones, and you have a double-secure point from which you can register any vote, wherever you are, whenever it is convenient. Or it could be the verification point for electronic voting booths, helping to verify you are who you say you are when you vote.
With the development of quantum-level encoding, we can now guarantee a vote stays secure at every point in the voting process. And when the votes are tallied, the final numbers can be stored in a quantum-encrypted server, to be cross-verified at any time with the stored original votes in another server. All of this is do-able with the security and biometric technologies available to us today; it only requires our commitment to use them.
The use of security devices like biometrics tend to follow predictable patterns: Once invented, only a few willingly use them; followed by a significant and catastrophic loss of income or property, with seemingly no other way to protect yourself; followed by widespread adoption of said security device, with a few particularly paranoid holdouts; and finally, when the holdouts are given no other option, they adopt said security device (or go live in a survivalist camp in the mountains).
This is what I expect to be the adoption pattern with biometrics as well. The only question would be the catastrophic event that will cause us to commit to it… the loss of our money and property… or the election of a monster to the highest office in our land.
But if we have any sense, we’ll soon recognize the extent of the threat to our individual and collective livelihoods… the overreaction of our fears of security and personal violation… and the amount to which we’ll benefit from increased security… and finally bring forth a reliable, workable biometric ID system that will safeguard our lives and our nation.