Tag Archive | Electronic Voting Machines

TV Covered Polls For Viewers – Not Voters ! – By Mukesh Jhangiani

                                                                                                                May 31, 2009

TV Covered Polls For Viewers – Not Voters !

By Mukesh Jhangiani
United News of India

New Delhi (UNI) – Key social issues, law and governance took a back seat while television news channels focused on personalities and alliances in the 72-day run up to Poll 2009, a study reported today.

A count by CMS Media Lab shows that six of India’s leading news channels between them spent 25,266 minutes or about 421 hours airing election news in their 7PM-11PM slots between March 1 and May 11.
Analysing bulletins, the Lab found DD News, Aaj Tak, NDTV 24X7, Zee News, CNN-IBN and Star News spent more airtime on politics than on entertainment and sports– mainstays for ratings and revenues.
”Even though TV remains the popular medium of communication,” it appeared ”largely unsuccessful in shaping public opinion,” the study said.
It pointed out, for instance, how a campaign by some major media houses urging citizens to vote failed to motivate, keeping voter turnout low.
Issues Indians struggle with day in and day out– affordable food, housing, jobs, water, unbridled crime– blue-collar and white-collar, health, and social, economic and judicial inequities—barely got much attention.
— Notwithstanding green revolution or claims of self-sufficiency, affordable food remains an issue. Foodgrain availability has fallen to 152 kg per capita, 23 kg less than in the 1990s, an e-source says. Some 47 per cent of Indian children, the nation’s future, are estimated to suffer from under-nutrition. India ”accounts for 21 per cent of the under-five children dying in the world… (and) is home to nearly 40 per cent of all low birth weight babies in the developing World.” In eradicating hunger, India ranked 66th among 88 developing and transition nations two months ago. A Hunger Index 2008 published under the auspices of Washington-based International Food Policy Research Institute highlighted ”the continued overall severity of the hunger situation in India. Most States have a ‘serious’ hunger problem, and one State, Madhya Pradesh, has an ‘extremely alarming’ hunger problem.” At least one manifesto pledged to enact a Right to Food law that guarantees citizens access to sufficient food.
— With experts estimating that barely six per cent of heinous offences end in convictions– letting 94 per cent offenders walk free while law-abiding victims suffer, crime is a major concern. A serious example of white-collar crime in a company curiously named Satyam surfaced shortly before elections when its founder proclaimed himself a fraud, possibly to escape severer jurisdictions. The revelation raises questions about inept regulatory system– be it boards of directors, auditors or registrars of companies, not to mention investigators. Indeed, authorities have yet to make clear their response or consequences for such perpetrators.
— Given a billion plus citizenry, the government acknowledges a deficit of 22.4 million houses. Authoritative sources say even 180 million dwellings in existence include 108 million in a dilapidated condition– unfit for healthy living. A television jingle some months ago cited the soaring prices of Delhi Development Authority flats as an accomplishment– rather than a criminal failure to ensure adequate housing. As the Law Commission recently pointed out, former President Zail Singh once suggested that no person in India be allowed to have more than one house– any extra houses given to the needy on installments.
Issues abound. Critics say when it comes to parity and justice, Indian governance, no matter the political label, has been long on talk, short on delivery.
But little of all that showed up in the election campaign or related coverage.
The study said the channels spent more airtime on politics but the bulk of it was ‘superficial,’ not hard news that might have informed, educated or influenced voters.
The channels gave politics 42.75 per cent news time– against usual 10-12 per cent, or 33 per cent in 2004 elections– but ”a major chunk of it remained superficial.”
Almost a third or 30.87 per cent of this time– 7,801 minutes or about 130 hours– was devoted to political personalities and another 10.62 per cent– 2,683 minutes or 45 hours– to alliance prospects.
Instant replays, trivialisation and reality formats– gimmicks to drive entertainment or sport viewership or television rating points and ad revenues– were liberally evident. The channels also played up hate speeches, verbal duels and bickering.
The overall coverage of elections ”bordered on entertainment” as issues were trivialized– instead of being clarified to help broaden perspectives and build opinion in public interest.
The study said the channels spent 10.62 per cent news time reporting political formations or breakups but barely 4.82 per cent on security, nuclear deal, jobs, development, governance, recession, farmers’ suicides and amenities.
Many key issues made just fleeting appearances– in talk shows and debates.
”Communication that could empower voters with vital information needed to make an informed decision was negligible,” it said.
Attention given to voting added up to 1,786 minutes or almost 30 hours or 7.07 per cent.
There was virtually no television coverage about electronic voting machines although there have been some complaints of possible malfunction or tampering.
‘’There was not even a cursory debate on the subject,’’ Lab spokesman Prabhakar told United News of India Special Correspondent Mukesh Jhangiani.
”Broadly stating,” the study said, ”there was a clear disconnect between the voters and the media, which was apparent in the coverage priorities of news channels.”
Skewed distribution of news time meant that insignificant issues ate up precious minutes that might have been used to air such pressing concerns as health, environment, water, electricity or roads.
The study showed the time spent on basic concerns– jobs, crime, housing, price rise, justice– was miniscule. Governance, education, infrastructure, not to mention the controversial nuclear deal with the United States, figured even less.
The six channels between them spent 414 minutes– 1.64 per cent– of airtime on corruption, an issue raised nationwide in the 1970s by veteran socialist Jayaprakash Narayan– and yet to be taken care of.
Even word that Indians have trillions of rupees stashed in secret Swiss accounts, posed as a poll issue by a novice party, Youth for Equality, failed to fire up coverage.
Almost equally little attention was paid to two of the most serious menaces– terrorism and criminalisation of politics– 314 minutes and 313 minutes– or 1.24 per cent of the coverage.
This, notwithstanding the spate of incidents, including the ghastly 26/11 Mumbai raid, nor the rising clamour against allowing lawbreakers to blend in with lawmakers.
Airtime spent on candidate selection or ticket distribution stories: 572 minutes or 2.26 per cent of the total.
A quick check by an activist group, Election Watch News, shows the number of electees facing criminal charges went up on May 16 from 128 in the 14th Lok Sabha to 153 in the 15th Lok Sabha.
As many as nine of them were appointed United Progressive Alliance Ministers.
A ‘positive’ aspect of the coverage, the study said, was DD news, NDTV 24X7 and Star News highlighting some serious neighbourhood issues– 7.37 per cent airtime.
The channels spent 1,361 minutes reporting on the Election Commission, 1,344 minutes, on opinion polls, 1,276 minutes, on parties’ campaigns and 605 minutes, on their strategies.

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EVMs – Good Idea. But Is It Time Yet ? – By Mukesh Jhangiani

December 20, 2010

EVMs – Good Idea. But Is It Time Yet ?*

By Mukesh Jhangiani
United News of India

New Delhi (UNI) – A conference segment scheduled to hear two Western experts’ claims that electronic voting machines used in India are not tamper-proof was called off, sponsors say.

”The talk was cancelled since they did not come,” a spokesman for the sponsor, Dhirubhai Ambani Institute of Information and Communication Technology, Gandhinagar said in a telephone interview.
The speakers listed: J Alex Halderman, Assistant professor of electrical engineering and computer science at Michigan University, and Rop Gonggrijp, a Dutch hacker and WikiLeaks contributor from Amsterdam.
Halderman and Gonggrijp arrived separately in New Delhi last week but were detained at Indira Gandhi Airport for almost 12 hours over a ”technical” violation, an airport official said.
The two had allegedly visited India before on tourist visas and went on to deliver lectures or participate in conferences.
Officials said Indian missions were under instructions not to issue them visas, but lapses occurred in each instance.
Officials did not say whether or what action was taken for the lapses, besides detaining the visa recipients.
Halderman and Gonggrijp were eventually allowed to enter India provided they do not violate the terms of their tourist visas.
According to Gonggrijp’s blog,”this may all be a consequence of the Election Commission of India having us investigated for some made-up conspiracy to destabilise India for daring to prove that the Electronic Voting Machines used here can be quite easily manipulated.”
But any such involvement of the ECI was denied by a senior official. ”Let them lecture all they want,” the official said.
At the same time, officials point out that visitors must honour the terms of their entry as tourists.
Before they were intercepted, both men appeared headed for Gandhinagar to attend the Sixth International Conference on Information Systems Security scheduled December 15-19.
Neither researcher was available for comment, having apparently not reported at the DAIICT event.
The two reportedly co-authored– alongwith six others– a paper titled: Security Analysis of India’s Electronic Voting Machines presented at Chicago, Illinois in October 2010.
An Abstract of the study available through the sponsor website notes that elections in India ”are conducted almost exclusively” using EVMs ”developed over the past two decades by a pair of government-owned companies.”
The EVMs are manufactured by Bharat Electronics Limited, Bangalore and Electronics Corporation of India Limited, Hyderabad, with a ‘programme code’ which controls their functioning written onto the chips in the United States by foreign private companies.
The study says the EVMs ”have been praised for their simple design, ease of use, and reliability, but recently they have also been criticised following widespread reports of election irregularities.”
But it says that despite ”criticism, many details of the machines’ design have never been publicly disclosed, and they have not been subjected to a rigorous, independent security evaluation.”
The authors ”present a security analysis of a real Indian EVM obtained from an anonymous source.”
”We describe the machine’s design and operation in detail, and we evaluate its security in light of relevant election procedures.
”We conclude that in spite of the machines’ simplicity and minimal software trusted computing base, they are vulnerable to serious attacks that can alter election results and violate the secrecy of the ballot.
”We demonstrate two attacks, implemented using custom hardware, which could be carried out by dishonest election insiders or other criminals with only brief physical access to the machines.
”This case study carries important lessons for Indian elections and for electronic voting security more generally.”
The study does not say how the researchers got hold of the EVM.
One co-author, Hari K Prasad, was reportedly arrested by a Maharashtra police team on August 21, 2010 from his home in Hyderabad ”on the flimsy charge of ‘theft of EVM’ used for vulnerability demonstration.”
The other five: Scott Wolchok, Eric Wustrow, Arun Kankipati, Sai Krishna Sakhamuri and Vasavya Yagati.
The study concludes that ”despite elaborate safeguards, India’s EVMs are vulnerable to serious attacks. Dishonest insiders or other criminals with physical access to the machines can insert malicious hardware that can steal votes for the lifetime of the machines.
”Attackers with physical access between voting and counting can arbitrarily change vote totals and can learn which candidate each voter selected.
”The design of India’s EVMs relies entirely on the physical security of the machines and the integrity of election insiders.
”India’s EVMs do not provide transparency, so voters and election officials have no reason to be confident that the machines are behaving honestly.
”India should carefully reconsider how to achieve a secure and transparent voting system that is suitable to its national values and requirements.”
It suggests three options:
— A voter-verifiable paper audit trail which combines an electronic record stored in direct-recording electronic voting machines with a paper vote record that can be audited by hand.
— Precinct-count optical scan voting where voters fill out paper ballots that are scanned by a voting machine at polling stations before being placed in a ballot box.
— Simple paper ballots.
”Despite all of their known weaknesses, simple paper ballots provide a high degree of transparency, so fraud that does occur will be more likely to be detected.
”Using EVMs in India may have seemed like a good idea when the machines were introduced in the 1980s, but science’s understanding of electronic voting security– and of attacks against it– has progressed dramatically since then, and other technologically advanced countries have adopted and then abandoned EVM-style voting.
”Now that we better understand what technology can and cannot do, any new solutions to the very real problems election officials face must address the problems, not merely hide them from sight.”
Reservations about the EVMs have been voiced by many.
As early as March 18, 2004, the CEC was petitioned by a group of Supreme Court lawyers to ”modify and upgrade” EVMs to generate a verifiable paper record that permits a proper recount should need arise.
A month later, on April 21, the lawyers reported they were assured by then Deputy Commissioner A N Jha that the EC is ”seriously considering” attaching small printers to EVMs to produce an auditable paper trail that allows recount.
Indian politicians have even cited the experience of some Western nations– Germany, the Netherlands and others– which tried electronic vote but went back to good old paper ballots.
Answering a member in the Rajya Sabha last month, Law and Justice Minister M Veerappa Moily acknowledged it all but held that Indian EVMs ”are different.”
Dr Moily said the ECI ”uses strict administrative safeguards in this regard for greater transparency… All of these ECI-EVMs are fully tamper proof.”
He said the ECI EVMs ”are different” in three respects.
— Are stand alone machines– not networked;
— Use a masked One-time Password microcontroller chip;
— Do not use an operating system.
He cited a consensus among Indian political parties achieved in an All Party Meeting on October 4, 2010 to continue using EVMs.
”The only request by the political parties was to consider the possibility of a verifiable paper trail,” Moily said, adding that the ECI has ”already referred that matter to its technical expert committee for examination.”
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