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'EVM activist Hari Prasad is a hero, not a thief'

By Vicky Nanjappa
August 24, 2010 19:09 IST
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The arrest of Hari K Prasad, the technical coordinator of VeTA (Citizens for Verifiability, Transparency and Accountability in Elections), has come as a major set back for all those activists who are on a mission to prove that the Electronic Voting Machine can be tampered with. Hari Prasad was arrested from Hyderabad on Saturday in connection with the theft of an EVM from Mumbai.

According to the police, the EVM was stolen from godown number 21 in Old Customs House in south Mumbai in April, following which a police complaint was registered. The question being asked is whether an attempt by Hari Prasad to play the role of a whistle blower proving that EVMs can be tampered can be termed as theft.

Save India Democracy, an organisation has been working with Hari Prasad, has reacted sharply to the sudden turn of events. Had this happened in the US, Hari Prasad would have been a hero since they would have accepted that he was only trying to fix a flaw in the system, says Satya Dosapati a key activist with Save India Democracy. In this interview, Dosapati speaks about Hariprasad's arrest and the need to replace the EVM technology since it will only lead to more rigged elections.

What is your take on the recent development leading up to the arrest of Hari Prasad.

According to my knowledge, this action is a fall out of the action initiated by outgoing Chief Election Commissioner Naveen Chawla. He had initiated action against all those activists who are raising a noise against the EVMs. However when the Telangana Rastriya Samithi openly demanded that EVMs not be used in the recent elections, the Election Commission of India realised the gravity of the situation and undertook such drastic measures to scuttle this movement.

What I gather is that the EC wants to put a halt to any movement which questions the veracity or authenticity of the EVM.

Do you approve of Hari Prasad's actions?

What wrong has he committed? He is the general manager of a reputed firm in Hyderabad and has been an activist involved in this movement since the very beginning. He has the best interest of the country in mind. Consider that Hari Prasad has not entertained a single offer to tamper with an EVM from politicians. Politicians from the northeast offered lucrative sums to learn how to tamper with the EVMs but they were rejected. It is a matter of shame and travesty of justice that the Election Commission instead of appreciating the acts of such heroes should stoop to intimidation and try and punish them.

Hari Prasad's actions are similar to those of activists in US and Europe and they are respected for it. For instance, Dr Alex Halderman who worked with Hari Prasad in hacking the Indian EVM has also hacked a EVM used in the US elections and he was employed by State of California Secretary of State to expose the vulnerabilities of the EVMs used in California.

You say that EVMs can actually be tampered with

Yes. It is a machine and any machine can be tampered with. No machine is foolproof. India is land with a great deal of corruption. Politicians can lay their hands on some experts and get a machine tampered with. We have conducted a lot of study into this and realised that is very easy to manipulate the election process in India.

But the general argument is that the EVM has done away with booth capturing.

I agree. But then if there is booth capturing, one is aware that something of this sort has happened and action can initiated. Electronic tampering can be done on a large scale and no one ever comes to know about it. This is what we are trying to demonstrate. There is absolutely no transparency when it comes to EVMs.

So what is your solution? Do away with EVMs?

When we take into consideration the situation in India, what is needed is a paper record which has details of the voter and his vote. However Indian commissioners have argued that the EVM stores the record and hence there is no need of paper. But what we are saying is that an EVM can be tampered with and hence the details of the voter too can. If the election results can be tampered with then how safe are a voter's record?

Our suggestion is that a vote should be cast on a ballot paper and the same should be read by the machine. This would mean that there are two records. The job of the machine would be to count the votes.

We had also suggested that the EVM should have a print facility so that there would be paper record. However over a period of time, we have realised that even printers can fail and hence we think it is better to go ahead with the first option.

What is your next course of action?

There is a legal team in place which will fight the case. We will go on to prove that Hari Prasad is innocent. The matter comes up in court on Thursday.

The main accusation is theft. The allegation is that one of the EVMs used for the demonstration was stolen. A machine was given to Hari Prasad to study temporarily. It was not done at the time of the elections. The EC had claimed that the machines were tamperproof at first.

Later they also told us that the machines are safe and cannot be accessed by anyone. If that is so then why did the Election Commission not realise for nearly five months that one of their machines was missing? Later when this was made public, they had no clue from where that machine was taken.

Only after they were shown the code did they realise that the machine belonged to Maharashtra and for quite some time they did not even know which godown it was stolen from. The worst part is that they do not even know who is responsible.

So you mean that anyone can walk in and steal a machine.

It is quite easy. None of these machines are sealed, when they are stored. You may not believe it, but these machines are guarded by a peon, who can be bribed at any time. Anyone can just walk under the guise of refurbishing the machine and tamper with it. You do not even need to do it a couple of days before the elections. It can be tampered with, well in advance and no one will know about it. That is the security of the EVM for you. Do you still feel that Hari Prasad did anything wrong in exposing such a weak system?

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Vicky Nanjappa