A decision in the Estonian parliament has opened the door for mobile phones to be used for authenticating voters in its 2011 election.
Estonia has been at the forefront of electronic voting for a number of years. In 2005 it started using a national ID card for authenticating voters and giving the go-ahead for using mobile phones is a continuation of that, according to Silver Meikar, a member of the Estonian Parliament and a longtime proponent of e-voting.
Voters will be authenticated using a digital certificate stored on SIM (Subscriber Identity Module) cards, which are already available to Estonians.
"You still need a computer and the Internet, but now you will have a choice of using your ID card plus card reader or a mobile ID to authenticate yourself," said Meikar.
Next on the agenda for the parlilament following last Thursday's decision to allow mobile-phone authentication is to adapt the Internet voting system, which currently only supports the use of ID cards. "We are now starting to program the system, so at the moment we don't have the technical readiness," said Vinkel. Adding support for mobile authentication will take about six months, he added.
The idea is to make it simpler for Estonians living abroad to vote, for example. "In some places, because of internal security polices, it's not possible to use an ID card, so mobile ID is just giving them another option," said Meikar.
Eesti Mobiil Telefon (EMT) is the only operator currently providing the special SIM cards containing digital certificates for voting authentication to their customers, but the other mobile operators are working on their own programs, according to Priit Vinkel, who works as an adviser for the Estonian National Electoral committee.
What Estonia will not do anytime soon is allow mobile phone use for the whole voting process because security can't be guaranteed. The biggest challenge is the large number of operating systems that are currently used. It's not possible to develop secure software for all of them, according to Meikar.