India needs to treat its whistleblowers well, not harass them

Posted on May 09, 2011 by G.V.L. Narasimha Rao, under Politics

Honour must be restored to Hari Prasad

The harassment meted out by the Indian authorities to the trio of EVM security researchers – Hari Prasad, Alex Halderman and Rop Gonggrijp – for demonstrating that India’s electronic voting machines (EVMs) are vulnerable to fraud is a case of shooting the messenger rather than addressing the core problem i.e fixing EVM vulnerabilities.

Two developments in the last week substantiate my charge of harassment.

On December 15, hearing the Mumbai police’s application seeking cancellation of bail of Hari Prasad in the “missing” EVM case, Principal sessions judge M.L. Tahaliyani thoughtfully observed that the (Mumbai) police was only concentrating on Hari Prasad’s custody either deliberately or out of ignorance.

EVM theft case: Court slams cops for shoddy probe

http://www.indianexpress.com/news/evm-theft-case-court-slams-cops-for-shoddy-probe/725438/1

A couple of days earlier, Alex Halderman, assistant professor at the University of Michigan, U.S. and Rop Gonggrijp, security researcher from the Netherlands were detained at the Delhi airport upon their arrival though they were holding valid visas. They were permitted entry only after helpful intervention by the Election Commission of India (ECI) stating that it had no objection to their visit despite their differing views on the Indian EVMs.

EVM flaw-finders issued visa by mistake

http://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/politics/nation/EVM-flaw-finders-issued-visa-by-mistake/articleshow/7096316.cms

All the three researchers acted in public interest to show that India’s EVMs have vulnerabilities that must be fixed. None of the three – Hari Prasad and the two foreign researchers – had any personal or commercial interest to demonstrate this.

What is the reward that we have given them? Hari Prasad was arrested for “theft and trespassing” and the two foreign researchers were given a humiliating treatment when they came visiting suspecting them to be hatchers of an “international conspiracy” to discredit India’s voting system.

Is this how we as a nation view things? Do we see everything from the prism of conspiracies? Are we so intolerant of dissent?

One may ask how the public interest has been served by the efforts of Hari Prasad and his co-authors. Various actions initiated by the Election Commission of India (ECI) over the past eight months show that the findings of research have led to a slew of measures to strengthen the EVM security.

For instance, the ECI has issued elaborate guidelines for storage and safekeeping of EVMs all over the country. It has issued more elaborate guidelines for first level checking of EVMs and mock polls in Bihar polls. These have enhanced the security of EVMs, though more remains to be done.

The ECI’s actions have brought to fore some unpalatable facts. “Disappearance” of as many as 4000 EVMs in Andhra Pradesh and sale of ‘stolen’ EVMs to scrap dealers in Vijayawada (Andhra Pradesh) by rag pickers are some harsh truths that came to light recently. (See below)

Rigging stink over 4000 ‘missing’ EVMs in Andhra Pradesh

December 6, 2010, Mail Today, Delhi

http://epaper.mailtoday.in/Details.aspx?boxid=444250&id=45647&issuedate=6122010

6 EVMs recovered from scrap dealers

December 6, 2010, Times of India, Hyderabad

http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/hyderabad/6-EVMs-recovered-from-scrap-dealers/articleshow/7049951.cms

PERTINENT ISSUES IN HARI PRASAD’S CASE

In our system of representative democracy, elections provide the only occasion when the people directly exercise their sovereign power. Immediately thereafter this power is ceded to the elected representatives. If this sacred power is vitiated by exploiting loopholes in the security of EVMs, our democracy is seriously endangered.

Hari Prasad and his co-authors have used an EVM provided to them for ensuring that the voting system and its vulnerabilities are not exploited by unscrupulous elements.

Mumbai police themselves acknowledge that Hari Prasad had not ‘stolen’ the EVM in question. He was merely in the possession of an Electronic Voting Machine (EVM) which he had used for demonstration purposes.

The Mumbai police has many questions to answer:

1)     How did the police press charges of theft and trespassing against Hari Prasad even when they knew that he was not responsible for the ‘alleged’ theft?

2)     Were these charges drummed up against him purely for harassment and intimidation? Isn’t this abuse of police powers?

3)     Why did the Mumbai police continue to harass Hari Prasad insisting on his daily attendance at the MRA Marg police station in Mumbai for almost a month in contravention of the bail order granted by the Metropolitan magistrate on August 28?

4)     Why are the Mumbai police still pressing for Hari Prasad’s custody when they already had him in custody for eight days in August this year, something that was condemned worldwide and he had told them everything that he knew?

5)     Should the police be allowed to abuse its powers in a case like this where Hari Prasad had nothing to gain personally? Or, is there more to the whole story than what meets the eye. The Mumbai police must come clean in this matter.

If being in possession of a government property for some time is enough grounds for arresting and jailing someone, this argument could be stretched to throw the entire Indian media into jail for leaking the CAG report on Spectrum scam, Niira Radia tapes and making public privileged correspondence between former telecom minister A. Raja and prime minister Dr. Manmohan Singh.

Initially, the Election Commission of India had some misgivings about the efforts of election transparency activists. The Government of India also viewed these efforts as a conspiracy against India’s voting system. Arrest of Hari Prasad and detention of foreign researchers were a result of such misgivings.

But over the months the Election Commission has realized that the activists and researchers have no vested interests except a reform in the voting system and has positively responded to suggestions by initiating several actions. It was ECI’s active intervention that lifted the embargo on the foreign researchers to visit the country recently.

It would be in the fitness of things if the government of Maharashtra also withdrew its complaint against Hari Prasad and other activists. As the EVM allegedly stolen is the property of Election Commission of India, the ECI would be well within its rights to ask the Maharashtra government to withdraw all charges against the EVM researchers.

Hari Prasad has received the prestigious Pioneer award from the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), San Francisco for his efforts in election transparency.

2010 Pioneer Award Winner Hari Prasad Defends India’s Democracy

https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2010/11/2010-pioneer-award-winner-hari-prasad-defends

While international recognition is welcome, what Hari Prasad needs at home is justice and not another round of police custody.

Hon’ble Judge M.L. Tahaliyani – who awarded death sentence to Pakistani terrorist Ajmal Kasab in the 26/11 case for waging war against the nation – will pronounce his judgment this week on the Mumbai police’s application for cancellation of Hari Prasad’s bail. This is not merely a routine application for cancellation of bail in a ‘theft’ case but one that will set a legal precedent as to how this country and its judicial system treat its heroes who are willing to stake their personal security for the sake of nation’s good.

I shall blog again this week after the judgment in the Hari Prasad’s case.

I can be contacted at nrao@indianEVM.com



Response to: India needs to treat its whistleblowers well, not harass them

ram kumar says:
March 03, 2011
Hon’ble Judge M.L. Tahaliyani – who awarded death sentence to Pakistani terrorist Ajmal Kasab in the 26/11 case for waging war against the nation – will pronounce his judgment this week on the Mumbai police’s application for cancellation of Hari Prasad’s bail. This is not merely a routine application for cancellation of bail in a ‘theft’ case but one that will set a legal precedent as to how this country and its judicial system treat its heroes who are willing to stake their personal security for the sake of nation’s good.
ram kumar says:
March 03, 2011
Hon’ble Judge M.L. Tahaliyani – who awarded death sentence to Pakistani terrorist Ajmal Kasab in the 26/11 case for waging war against the nation – will pronounce his judgment this week on the Mumbai police’s application for cancellation of Hari Prasad’s bail. This is not merely a routine application for cancellation of bail in a ‘theft’ case but one that will set a legal precedent as to how this country and its judicial system treat its heroes who are willing to stake their personal security for the sake of nation’s good.
Raju says:
June 27, 2011
The congress party is the beneficiary of the EVM, why in the world they want to fix it? Check the elections results most the seats congress got is 20% plus mark up!

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 G.V.L. Narasimha Rao, -G.V.L. Narasimha Rao, 45, is a leading election analyst and a political commentator.
 

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