The government of Somaliland asked Notre Dame computer science professor Kevin Bowyer with graduate students Amanda Sgroi and Estefan Ortiz to use their iris recognition biometric research to improve the legitimacy of their elections. Somaliland is a self-declared independent state directly north of Somalia recognized by the international community and U.S. as an autonomous region of Somalia. According to a College of Engineering press release, it is transforming into a rare, multiparty democracy in the Horn of Africa and is working to establish honest, respected elections. “Someone in Somaliland sent me an e-mail asking me to help with improving their voting register,” Bowyer said. “They said they wanted to use iris-recognition technology and asked us for help. The ultimate goal is that you can only vote one time,” Sgroi said. “If you’re trying to vote a second time, then the iris recognition system is going to block you before you can even cast your ballot.”
Bowyer said they kept in constant e-mail contact with the Somaliland government and were able to produce results that they could use to help achieve the Somaliland government nation status within a short period of time. In the press release, he said the data acquisition for the field study took place over a five-day period in registration centers in Hargeisa, the Somaliland capital, and Baki, a town 60 miles away from Hargeisa. The data was transferred electronically to the Notre Dame team, who sent the results back after conducting iris recognition analysis.
“They wanted to take some current technology, go to a couple of towns take some data and seed it with some duplicates,” Bowyer said. “They wanted to give us the data basically, if we could tell them which registration belonged to the same person and which actually belong to different people.”