Cyber security professionals have raised an alarm about the potential danger to national security, even before the Election Commission (EC) formally announces a tie-up with US technology giant Google. The poll panel has been in talks with the internet firm’s India office to allow voters to easily search for their details on electoral lists. The company had also proposed to build an application for voters to get road directions to polling stations through Google Maps. It was also reported last week that Google would help EC manage online voter registrations before the Lok Sabha elections this year. “This will lead to a goldmine of intelligence,” said Jiten Jain, a member of the Indian Infosec Consortium (IIC), an association of professionals working in the field of cyber security and are critics of the proposed relationship between EC and Google. He added that citizens will have to provide their email addresses and mobile numbers for new voter registrations. That, combined with Google’s other technology offerings like email, search, maps, etc could aid in building profiles of voters which could invade their privacy.
The other allegations made by members of the association were that EC had not sought a security clearance for such a measure and had also not actively reached out to “Indian” or “government-owned” organisations before choosing Google. According to IIC, the move acquires significance against the backdrop of revelations made by Edward Snowden, former contractor of the National Security Agency (NSA), alleging that the US government has been snooping upon digital conversations of residents of many countries, including India, by hacking into the networks of technology firms.
On December 30, deputy election commissioner Alok Shukla had told Business Standard that the Google initiative was part of the digitisation of electoral rolls, which was already happening at the state-owned NIC servers. “Google is generally considered an expert and known for its search feature and the idea is to develop an application through which a voter can find his or her information very easily and even get driving directions to the polling station through an application on mobile phone.”
He added that EC had signed a non-disclosure agreement with the company and was not paying it for the services. “We have been in talks with several companies and it so happened that Google showed a positive inclination (towards the project).”