Special Feature
Part of a ZDNet Special Feature: Coronavirus: Business and technology in a pandemic

Brazil suspends biometric identification in elections to reduce Covid-19 risk

Specialists concluded the technology could increase contamination and crowds

Brazilian authorities decided to suspend the need for biometric identification in this year's municipal elections to reduce the risk of Covid-19 contamination.

The decision was announced by the president of the Superior Electoral Tribunal (TSE), Luis Roberto Barroso, after a meeting with specialists from two major Brazilian hospitals and a local foundation focused on medical research.

Banning the use of fingerprint identification in the 2020 elections is part of pro-bono consulting work that hospitals Sírio Libanês and Albert Einstein and Fundação Fiocruz are carrying out under a partnership with the Brazilian electoral authorities. The experts are working on a protocol to reduce Covid-19 risk during the elections, set to take place in November. Voting is compulsory in Brazil.

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The specialists concluded that the sanitization of fingerprint readers after each use would not be viable. The experts also considered that the process of biometric identification may sometimes take longer than traditional signatures, so the potential risk of crowds was another factor that was considered in the decision.

TSE had been collecting biometric data from citizens since 2008 as a means to prevent voting fraud. Later, the goal evolved towards the creation of a single citizen database and unified ID card, which will ultimately gather information such as tax, driver and voting records. TSE is responsible for leading the single biometric database efforts.

Information from over 119 million Brazilians has been gathered so far, and the authorities plan on having fingerprints of 150 million citizens by 2022.

Brazil introduced electronic voting in 1996 as a means to ensure secrecy and accuracy of the election process, as well as speed. The polling equipment and system currently in place can deliver results within a matter of minutes within the closing of the ballots.

However, the e-voting set-up has been at the center of controversy over large-scale software fraud and other non-technical tampering for years. The local authorities have continuously reiterated the system is safe.