I refer to the recent discussions in India on the possible tampering of EVMs. The Election Commission has invited the public to demonstrate if they think the EVMs can be tampered with. The move of the Election Commission  is appreciable since it gives an opportunity to the people who are suggesting that the EVMs can be tampered with WiFi signals or otherwise to demonstrate such possibilities.  Hopefully there would be greater trust in the machines once the exercise is completed.

However, it is also necessary for the Election Commission to make certain changes in the EVMs which will make it Cyber Law Compliant since in its present form doubts can be raised about its legal validity.

The following points have been presented earlier by Naavi  in the article http://www.naavi.org/cl_editorial_04/edit_03_mayl_04_02.htm and requires reiteration in the context of the present developments.

Before the passage of ITA-2000, (Information Technology Act 2000), there was no legally accepted object called “Electronic Document” for which certain provisions of law applied. The current EVMs were developed in this pre-ITA-2000 era.  But after October 17, 2000, the legal scenario has changed.

Section 2(h) of the ITA-2000 states as under:

“Electronic Form” with reference to information means any information generated, sent, received or stored in media, magnetic, optical, computer memory, micro film, computer generated micro fiche or similar device;

Section 2(t) of the ITA-2000 states as under:

“Electronic Record” means data, record or data generated, image or sound  stored, received or sent in an electronic form or micro film or computer generated micro fiche;

Section 2(l) of the ITA-2000 states as under:

“Computer System” means a device or collection of devices, including input   and output support devices and excluding calculators which are not  programmable and capable of being used in conjunction with external files,  which contain computer programmes, electronic instructions, input data, and output data, that performs logic, arithmetic, data storage and retrieval, communication control and other functions
 

The above reading makes it clear that the EVMs can be considered as “Computer Systems” and any document generated by EVMs is an “Electronic Document”.

ITA-2000 therefore applies to the transactions of the EVMs.

On May 10, 2001, the undersigned first made this point through the article Hacking and Indian Elections ( http://www.naavi.org/cl_editorial/edit_01may10_01.html ), where in he had made the following point.

Quote:

The interesting issues to be discussed are,

“Does the earlier amendments to the People’s Representation Act” enabling electronic voting get superseded by the ITA-2000?

If there is a dispute on “Rigging” and “Tampering of Voting Machines”, can action be taken under Section 66 of the ITA-2000 for “Hacking”?

If there is a dispute on the corruption of data due to an induced system error, can it be construed as a “Virus” and action initiated under the ITA-2000?

Can “Impersonation” amount to “Unauthorized Access” to the system?

….etc.

…..

Before the entire country goes into “Cyber Voting”, a thought has to be reserved for the need to educate all the Election officials on “Cyber Laws” and the feasibility of allowing “Voting Through Internet” using a “Valid Digital Signature”…atleast in lieu of “Postal Ballots”

Unquote

However, neither the EC nor those who are now suggesting cancellation of the current EVMs took  note of this early warning and started any activity towards sorting out the issues involved.

In the current design of the EVMs, the names of the candidates and the symbols is fixed on the hardware in written form. The buttons in front of these names are identified by the software as buttons 1 to 16 and are internally accounted as votes cast for candidate 1 or 2 etc.

The voter when he approaches the EVM, is presented a ballot paper which is the front side of the EVM. Then instead of taking a rubber stamp and affixing it in front of the candidate, he instructs the EVM to record his rubber stamp by pressing one of the 16 buttons. When he presses the button 10, he is effectively instructing the EVM, “Please put the rubber stamp for candidate with serial number 10 as I am seeing here”.

However, while the voter is seeing the names as given on the front of the EVM which is a “paper document” the software within the EVM itself (Which is like an agent of the voter for affixing the rubber stamp) is seeing an electronic ballot paper where the names of the candidates are defined by the positions 1 to 16.

If the writings on the front of the EVM is changed without proper corrections in the counting logic, there can be possibilities of your electronic agent (i.e. EVM)  affixing the rubber stamp on a wrong candidate.

This situation is similar to a person with a parallax error in his vision who stamps line number 6 thinking that he is stamping the line number 5. The only difference is that in the EVM case, the parallax error is that of the electronic agent and not of the principal.

Some of the mistakes that have been cited in the PIL which was filed with Supreme Court in 2004 could have happened because while re using the EVMs, the earlier configuration on the machine might not have been properly wiped out. Hence a button which was earlier meant for BJP may now be linked to the name of a Congress candidate.

This is definitely not acceptable and needs to be corrected. But this is an issue of “Inefficiency” and not of ” lack of Integrity” amongst the staff involved.

Additionally there could be problems in circuitry where the links may be short circuited for some reason and the buttons may behave erratically.

At present, these issues are being handled through a process of verification before the start of the election process and change of EVMs where necessary.

Some of the critics have pointed out that these tests can also be made ineffective by an intelligent fraudster. This point is well taken. If a fraudster is determined and he is having access to the machine meant for a particular constituency, he can perhaps manipulate the machines.

It is in such cases that we need to look at whether there is any legal remedy to punish such culprits and also for the judiciary to review the election process.

The present practice of configuring the ballot paper partially as a “Written” instrument (as seen by the voter) and partially as “Electronic instrument” (as seen by the software of the EVM) creates a “hybrid ” document.

ITA-2000 speaks of how an electronic document can be authenticated or accepted as equal to a paper document. It does not however speak of how a “hybrid” document can be accepted as a legal document and how it can be authenticated.

The “authentication” in the ballot process is providing an approval without disclosing the identity of a person through the normal signature. Hence “Digital Signature” cannot be used for authenticating the ballot paper.

Again if we go back to the manual ballot paper, there used to be a serial number for the ballot paper and the voter used to sign on the counter foil  of the ballot paper. hence, if one takes out a ballot paper after the vote has been cast and checks the counterfoil, it was possible to identify who voted for whom. Hence an indirect linking of the voter identity to the actual ballot has not been considered un acceptable if there are enough safeguards to maintain confidentiality.

In my opinion, the documents created by the EVM is an “Electronic Document” as per ITA-2000. However, the design of the EVMs as at present make the ballot paper a “hybrid” of “Paper and Electronic” Document. They cannot therefore be properly authenticated (rubber stamped) either by paper based methods or by electronic methods.

It is in this context that I hold the view that EVMs as being used now are not “Cyber Law Compliant”.

I therefore support the view that there is a need for upgradation of the EVMs which I call as “Making EVMs Cyber Law Compliant”.

I therefore urge EC to take up a review of the system

Some of the suggestions I make are

1. Replace the front of the EVMs from the present paper base to a touch sensitive screen which loads the ballot paper as an image from a software.

2. The voter will put his finger in front of the name and symbol he choses just as he was earlier stamping the paper ballot paper with a rubber stamp.

3.After the finger depression is made, the image is displayed with the Vote mark which the voter can see and be satisfied

4.The screen image with the voting mark is captured as a hash value and stored in a memory inside the EVM .

5.The hash value is also printed as a list in a mini printer that is sealed inside the EVM.

6. The mempory chip that stores the hash value and the mini printer are sealed in such a manner that it can be opened only with the presence of multiple officials under supervision.

7. In case of dispute, the hash table can be verified under the supervision of the court.

8. It may be possible to capture another hash value corresponding to the finger print of the voter which is also stored. This will enable a system to be developed where the voter alone may be permitted to verify if the vote as registered is the same as what he intended (Though the desirability of such provision in the national election can be debated in view of the powerful lobbies who may punish the voters if their choices are not confidential)

The above system would make the EVMs complaint with Cyber Laws which is a critical requirement and there should be no arguments about it. Though this may not make the EVMs , tamper proof, it would enable the vote lists to be verified by the Courts if required. There is an issue of higher cost but this should be a point of debate when the validity of the entire process is being vitiated by the non compliance of the laws of the land.

Some of the critics of the present system are also holding a strong view that without a “Paper Trail” no ballot would be acceptable with an EVM. This is also the approach adopted by some groups in USA. The US model is almost like printing out every ballot and storing it in a box.

While having a paper trail as above could be advantageous, I do feel that it may not be as critical as one seems to think.  This  totally negates the idea of using electronic system except as a means of printing out ballot papers. Either there should be a summary record sufficient to address the concerns of verifiability or a total electronic solution which addresses the issue of verifiability.

If the EC is willing, an attempt can be made to present a prototype of the above device which can even be produced by BEL itself.  The suggested design can be made available to them and the development of the prototype coordinated so that the EC can test it out in a small election such as say the next BBMP elections in Bangalore.

 For more details the undersigned can be contacted at Bangalore over e-mail naavi@vsnl.com

Naavi

Related Articles:

Hacking and Indian Elections …Naavi.org

Ghosts in the Machine.. Hindustan Times

Cyber Law Compliancy and Electronic Voting…Naavi.org

PIL Filed on EVMs in Supreme Court..Naavi.org

Order Passed on PIL on EVMs..Naavi.org

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