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Flap over Indian Electronic Voting Machines

September 19, 2010 5 comments
The Great Indian Election Tamasha (Cartoon by Paresh Nath, Published by The Khaleej Times, UAE, Cartoon Courtesy - caglecartoons.com).

The Great Indian Election Tamasha (Cartoon by Paresh Nath, Published by The Khaleej Times, UAE, Cartoon Courtesy - caglecartoons.com).

All’s well …

Hari K. Prasad, the techie who was pushing the case for secure Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs), earlier arrested, has now been released on bail.

Fears of the Vindictive State seems to have been misplaced. Instead, we had a judge who echoed, pretty much what 2ndlook said. The judge said,

if the machine was possessed by the accused for demonstrating only that it could be tampered with, then the accused committed no offence. On the contrary, he has done a great service to the democracy,” the Judge said in the bail order.

Tathastu!

How can the land of snakes and elephants get the latest technoloy seems to be the thrust of these aruments? (Cartoon by Patrick Corrigan; Published by The Toronto Star; Crtoon Courtesy - caglecartoons.com.).

How can the land of snakes and elephants get the latest technology seems to be the thrust of these arguments? (Cartoon by Patrick Corrigan; Published by The Toronto Star; Cartoon Courtesy - caglecartoons.com.).

If developed countries have rejected EVMs …

One worrisome argument states that since many ‘advanced’ countries rejected EVMs, India too must reject the same.

The question seems to be, “Do you think the Indian Election Commission is better than the US Federal Election Commission?” Since, election authorities in Netherlands and Germany have rejected EVMs, another favorite question is “Are you saying that the Government of Netherlands and Germany are wrong?” Even ‘advanced’ countries don’t have EVMs.

Why should India have it.

Paralysis by analysis

Paper based systems are also prone to frauds. Like ‘oldsters’ in the Indian electoral scene will point put. Whatever technology is used, elements of fraud are likely to rear their heads. A recent post in The Economic Times recounts

a story to illustrate how there have always been allegations against electoral systems. “Balraj Madhok (former politician and co-founder of the Bharatiya Jana Sangh) once alleged that Indira Gandhi had colluded with the Russians and imported a special election ink. Wherever it is marked in the ballot paper, the ink would disappear and reappear against the Congress symbol. This is like that,” he says.

If the above story is factual, it would mean, a combination of two inks. A disappearing ink that would fade away a few days after being used on the ballot paper. The second ink would have to be an ‘invisible’ ink, that is embedded in the ballot paper at the printing press itself. This ‘invisible ink would make its appearance a few days or weeks after the ballots are printed. Do such inks exist?

I haven’t the foggiest notion.

A new day … a new way

Making the system work, after the decision is made is a good thing. Paralysing a system with ‘doubts’ instead of ‘karma’ is a bad idea. If EVMs need improvement, let us do it.

For tomorrow, I would propose a paper based system with central data-base and a printer-server with printers in every polling booth. These printers will print a ballot-paper on demand, for that booth, with date-time-location-serial number-election supervisor-election observers ID stamp, that will have better security than EVM or the ‘current’ old printing machines.

The story so far …

By December, the movement had a book of its own, written by Rao, the psephologist, and a growing number of supporters. One of them, Satya Dosapati, a technician from AP living in the US, connected the movement with Rop Gonggrijp and Alex Halderman. Gonggrijp is a Dutch activist who was part of the team that persuaded his country to scrap electronic voting. Halderman holds a PhD in computer science from Princeton University and is currently an assistant professor of electrical engineering and computer science at the University of Michigan. When Prasad eventually got hold of a machine, Gonggrijp and Halderman worked with him to demonstrate two ways in which a potential hacker could manipulate the machine.

Alerted, the EC asked officials to check for bluetooth devices in EVMs during the first step in securing a machine for an election. Engineers from the manufacturing companies are also now required to certify that all components are original and have not been tampered with. They also have to ensure the absence of any external component. It’s unclear though if all the components in 1.3 million machines can be rigorously tested and cleared by engineers before every election.(via ET Special: Can the Electronic Voting Machine be manipulated? – Page3 – The Economic Times).

India’s Election Commission gets techie arrested

August 22, 2010 7 comments
 S.Y. Quraishi  - India's Chief Election Commissioner.

S.Y. Quraishi - India's Chief Election Commissioner.

A city-based computer engineer who demonstrated the vulnerability of Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) to tampering was taken into custody by the Mumbai police from his residence in Madhapur locality here on Saturday morning.

The Mumbai police was investigating the case of a ‘missing EVM’ from the Mumbai collectorate and the same machine was reportedly used for the ‘vulnerability demonstration’ by the technologist, Hari K. Prasad, in April last.

Mr. Prasad, managing director of a Hyderabad-based technology firm NetIndia, had taken the help of two other researchers – a Michigan University professor J. Alex Halderman and a Holland-based technology activist Rop Gonggrijp, to demonstrate that EVMs used in India could be tampered by altering small components of the machine.

The researchers had used a genuine EVM in their ‘vulnerability demonstration’ on April 28 and the Election Commission of India had then rejected the claim outright. After video footage of the demonstration showed the serial number of the EVM, authorities found that one of the EVMs in Mumbai collectorate was ‘stolen’ and a case registered in MRA Marg station on May 13. (via The Hindu : Today’s Paper News : Missing EVM: techie arrested).

Hari K. Prasad - The techie who was picked upf ro exposing the EVM vulnerability.

Hari K. Prasad - The techie who was picked up for exposing the EVM vulnerability.

This is strange

The Indian Election Commission should have invited these people for pointing out the fallibility of these machines and collaborated to find ways to ensure that election rigging does not happen.

It must be pointed out that that Mumbai police had earlier served a notice on him on August 6 asking him to appear before them. He could have easily applied for an anticipatory bail and appeared before the police. Seems like a case bad legal advice!

Indian oligarchy takes over

For the last 1 year, there has been a rising chorus that India is a becoming a police state and power is being handed over to an oligarchy. India seemed so unlike the US with a prison population of 20 lakh people. With harmless people like Vikram Buddhi languishing in US prison for the last few years.

Instead of public sector, a new oligarchy is taking over India. It is an unholy collusion between the rich and the powerful. What seemed like a retreat of the State seems to be now simply a privatization of power. What was earlier being managed by the ‘inefficient’ public sector has now been rented out to the ‘effective’ private sector.

India has to be ‘modern’ ‘efficient’ – and vindictive

The Electronic Voting Machines were a movement towards this ‘efficiency’.All that is needed is a printer attachment which will give a paper-printout of the ballot. This printout must also be put in a ballot box. A random audit in case of a suspected fraud will become fool-proof.

Is this a simple case of a few days of custodial interrogation to put the fear of the State into such ‘loose cannons’ or a vindictive State? We will know in a few days.

The Vindictive State, Mian Shahabuddin Yaqoob Quraishi, (our esteemed Chief  Election Commissioner) is not something that Indians will tolerate. I hope you have your history lessons right. If you have been a student of colonial history, which talks of a mythical, supine, Indian population that believes in non-violence, you may get an unpleasant surprise.

And soon!

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