Today, at wee hours Maharashtra police landed up at the residence of Hari Prasad in Hyderabad, a technologist and Technical coordinator of VeTA to arrest him. The arrest was made on the flimsy charge of ‘theft of EVM’ used for vulnerability demonstration by Hari Prasad and a team of security researchers that included Alex Halderman, professor of computer science, University of Michigan and Rop Gonggrijp, a security researcher from Netherlands along with a team of their colleagues.
Earlier, police came to Hyderabad in the first week of August and recorded a statement on the EVM they had used for exposing the vulnerability of EVMs. They summoned him to Mumbai for further questioning. Hari Prasad could not go as he was busy with his professional work. Then, the sudden arrest happened this morning.
Over the past one year, the Election Commission of India (ECI) has been lying blatantly and willfully to ensure continued use of EVMs at all costs. It attributed all kinds of qualities to its EVMs: “totally tamper proof, perfect, fail safe and requiring no improvement” etc. etc. When Hari Prasad agreed to meet the ECI’s challenge to demonstrate tamperability of EVMs, the ECI backed out imposing silly, unscientific restrictions.
To call the ECI’s bluff, Hari Prasad and team have demonstrated the tamperability of EVMs on an EVM made available to them. This is like a sting operation carried out by media organizations. If the stings done by media are a legitimate method of information gathering, so is this sting demonstration. There cannot be separate standards for separate groups. In both cases, public interest is paramount. Moreover, the world over this is the practice followed by security researchers to expose vulnerabilities of absurd claims of “perfect” and “tamper proof” electronic voting systems. The details of this sting demonstration are available at www.indiaEVM.org
For the ECI, the following developments threatening EVM exit seem to have caused unbearable stress.
- 13 political parties had written to the ECI in April expressing concerns about the reliability of EVMs and urging the ECI to organize an All-party meeting. The ECI has not responded to this request so far.
- In Telangana bypoll held last month to 12 assembly constituencies, the TRS had fielded a large number of dummy candidates to avoid use of EVMs. The ECI was thus forced to use ballot papers in 5 of the 12 constituencies where byolls were held.
- Last week, international experts in computer security have concluded in a workshop held in Washington D.C on August 9 and 10 that the Indian EVMs do not provide the security, verifiability, or transparency adequate for confidence in election results, the Election Commission of India. (Read the letter here:
This workshop was attended by ECI’s expert committee chairman P.V. Indiresan and election commissioner Dr. Alok Shukla. Along with these ECI’s representatives, I had also participated in a panel discussion with these ECI representatives. ECI’s arguments were completely trashed by an independent team of security researchers. The audio of the panel discussion can be heard at this link:
All the above developments have clearly unnerved the Election Commission.
On August 10, the ECI had invited V.V.Rao, National Coordinator of VeTA along with Hari Prasad to discuss about the vulnerabilities of Indian EVMs. The chief election commissioner S.Y. Quraishi and commissioner V.S. Sampath have sought suggestions from Hari Prasad on how the EVMs could be strengthened. They said that they were willing to make improvements and are keen to understand what all improvements were needed.
Reliable sources tell us that the Election Commission of India had pressurized the Maharashtra police to press for Hari Prasad’s arrest on charges of stealing the EVM used for exposing the vulnerability of EVMs. The ECI’s intent becomes evident from the fact that they had instructed the police not to share a copy of the FIR with Hari Prasad to deny him an opportunity to move an anticipatory bail application. Hari Prasad did mange to get a copy of the FIR later but decided to court arrest if necessary rather than seek anticipatory bail.
What is the Election Commission of India trying to do? Does it think that it can intimidate critics of EVMs? What interests is the ECI trying to protect by resorting to such repressive actions? Has the Election Commission of India got skeletons in its cupboards that it is seeking to protect any damaging disclosures?
Worldwide, vulnerabilities of electronic voting systems are exposed in exactly the same manner as was done by researchers in India. Nowhere have the election bodies used such repressive steps to intimidate critics.
With its desperate actions, the ECI stands totally exposed and is betraying signs of losing the “EVM battle”. While earlier the ECI seemed only guilty of being ignorant about the vulnerabilities of EVMs, the latest actions raise question marks about the integrity and intent of the ECI.
In the ongoing battle for reforming the ballot (voting) system, fast paced developments are expected in the coming weeks. In the face of this adversity, as we double our efforts on all fronts, there is unstinted support forthcoming from all quarters.
Finally, the stage is now set for a renewed legal battle in the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India. With all the evidence now available and the statements from experts in computer security, defending the EVMs is becoming as difficult for the ECI as the unbridled bungling in Common Wealth Games (CWG).