Monday, August 23, 2010

Evoting researcher arrested

In May this year, Hari Prasad, along with Alex Haldermann and Ron Gronggrijp, demonstrated the vulnerability of Indian evoting machines to fraud.  On Saturday Prasad was arrested, charged with the theft of an electronic voting machine.

On 12 August a group of prestigious evoting experts wrote to the Chief Election Commissioner of India explaining that "that India’s EVMs do not today provide security, verifiability, or transparency adequate for
confidence in election results." The Indian Election Commission has previously consulted Hari Prasad on how to improve the security of the voting machines.  The Commission now stands accused, however, of arranging Prasad's arrest.

Update: Comment from EFF.
"The Election Commission of India should have given researchers access to the voting machines in the first place. Rather than attempting to persecute Prasad and the anonymous source, the government should be focusing its attention and resources on the real problem: electronic voting machines with no mechanism for accountability."
Comment from Alex Halderman:
About four months ago, Ed Felten blogged about a research paper in which Hari Prasad, Rop Gonggrijp, and I detailed serious security flaws in India's electronic voting machines. Indian election authorities have repeatedly claimed that the machines are "tamperproof," but we demonstrated important vulnerabilities by studying a machine provided by an anonymous source.
The story took a disturbing turn a little over 24 hours ago, when my coauthor Hari Prasad was arrested by Indian authorities demanding to know the identity of that source.
At 5:30 Saturday morning, about ten police officers arrived at Hari's home in Hyderabad. They questioned him about where he got the machine we studied, and at around 8 a.m. they placed him under arrest and proceeded to drive him to Mumbai, a 14 hour journey.
The police did not state a specific charge at the time of the arrest, but it appears to be a politically motivated attempt to uncover our anonymous source. The arresting officers told Hari that they were under "pressure [from] the top," and that he would be left alone if he would reveal the source's identity.
Hari was allowed to use his cell phone for a time, and I spoke with him as he was being driven by the police to Mumbai:
If any good has come from this, it's that there has been an outpouring of support for Hari. He has received positive messages from people all over India.
Unfortunately, the entire issue distracts from the primary problem: India's electronic voting machines have fundamental security flaws, and do not provide the transparency necessary for voters to have confidence in elections. To fix these problems, the Election Commission will need help from India's technical community. Arresting and interrogating a key member of that community is enormously counterproductive."

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