Uganda seeks tech solution to voter fraud

A face recognition technology used at the Super Bowl to identify criminals will now be taken to Africa to assist in reducing voter fraud in Uganda.

Littleton, Mass.-based Viisage Technology Inc. has been awarded a contract to provide a face recognition system for the Electoral Commission of Uganda in support of its national elections. The technology developed initially at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Media Lab will be used to help eliminate voter fraud.

“Our technology will ensure that people register to vote only one time,” said Tom Colatosti, Viisage’s president and chief executive officer.

The technology takes about a second to grab an image and match it against a database of facial images. Viisage’s software translates the characteristics of a face into a unique set of numbers, which is referred to as the “eigenface.” The eigenface is used by both identification and verification systems for face comparisons.

In the Uganda voter project, Viisage’s Face Explorer software will help acquire voter images to build a database, Colatosti said. The technology will not be ready for Uganda’s presidential elections on March 7, but it is expected to be operational for the country’s parliamentary elections in June, he said.

The same product was used for surveillance purposes during late January at the Super Bowl, the championship of U.S. professional football attended by thousands of people. Local, state and federal law enforcement provided images of known criminals. Digital cameras were posted at each of the turnstiles at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida and officials matched game attendees images against the database.

Nineteen people were matched against the database. No one was arrested as it was viewed as an exercise by law enforcement.

There are five basic applications for the face recognition software, Colatosti said. The applications are surveillance, identity fraud, physical access control such as for building, point-of-sale situations, such as using an automated teller machine, and logging onto a PC.

The technology already is installed at about 70 casinos worldwide to identify people who have been barred from being in particular gaming facilities. The state of Wisconsin’s correctional facilities use face recognition software to allow guards access to different parts of buildings without having to carry keys. The Illinois State Police have access to 7 million state residents from the department of motor vehicles to assist with background checks.

Some uses of face recognition software, including at the Super Bowl, have raised privacy concerns and Colatosti has said publicly that the software should be used responsibly. Electronic Privacy Information Center Executive Director Marc Rotenberg called the technology “Orwell on stilts,” referring to author George Orwell and his famous book 1984 in which “Big Brother” watches over everyone.

Use of the technology at the Super Bowl crossed the privacy line, Rotenberg said, and the software leads to a loss of control and identity.

“It is one thing to have a camera to detect illegal activity in places like casinos,” Rotenberg said. “But in this case, cameras are being used for identification. I think this type of identification is very problematic. I think it is not a very good invention to export to Africa.”

Viisage can be reached at The Electronic Privacy Information Center, in Washington D.C., can be reached at