Philippines urged to consider biometric voter authentication during 2025 polls
The Commission on Elections of the Philippines (Comelec) is seeking to upgrade its election management system with the procurement of a Fully Automated System with Transparency Audit and Count (FASTrAC).
The move has been described as laudable but a Computer Science Associate Professor at the University of the Philippines, Rommel Feria, is wondering why the election agency is not going for a system that would allow voter verification and authentication to be done using biometric data collected during voter registration.
In a comment for the Manila Bulletin, Feria says the Terms of Reference (TOR) for the supply of the equipment makes no mention of biometrics, “which means that the machine will not be equipped with the biometric scanner, nor will it securely store the mathematical representation of the biometric data on the machine.”
“Imagine utilizing the biometrics of authorized personnel when logging in on the machine instead of a username, password and the USB hardware key? I do not know why Comelec has wasted this opportunity to fully use the data they have collected,” the academic muses.
Comelec has even suggested adding iris biometrics to the voter registration system to improve its ability to find double registrations.
Apart from the issue of biometrics, Feria also questions why the Comelec is going for proprietary software for the new system, instead of one in which “the full software stack of the machine can be audited completely by using free, open-source software.”
Thirdly, Feria notes that the TOR make no mention of how potential vulnerabilities with the new system can be fixed. He however expresses the wish to see these and many other questions addressed during the pre-bid.
In a related story, a Filipino elections watchdog, the National Movement for Free Elections (NAMFREL), has also called on Comelec to ensure a fully transparent procurement process and one that will be fair to both local and international potential bidders, according to Philstar Global.
The entity has also called for congressional action that will make it possible for Filipino firms to bid for the contract, urging the election agency to also consider the factors of “cost-effectiveness, accessibility and inclusivity, reliability, security, safety, and fairness” in the procurement process.
While NAMFREL has insisted that the system to be acquired must be auditable, it recommends that it shouldn’t be based on proprietary or locked-in technology which could make reviewing it difficult, echoing Professor Feria.
The outfit has also called for the process to be competitive enough in order not to appear to favour one bidder over another.