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regular-article-logo Saturday, 20 July 2024

'Anything can be hacked': Slugfest over Elon Musk’s EVM ‘hack’ tweet

EVMs in India are a ‘black box,’ and nobody is allowed to scrutinize them. Serious concerns are being raised about transparency in our electoral process: Rahul Gandhi

Pheroze L. Vincent New Delhi Published 17.06.24, 05:37 AM
Elon Musk.

Elon Musk. File Photo.

A comment on the possible hacking of electronic voting machines, posted on X by the platform’s US-based owner Elon Musk, has set the cat among the pigeons in India with government and Opposition representatives wading in.

Musk on Saturday quoted a tweet by American presidential candidate (Independent) Robert F. Kennedy Jr, who shared a news report about miscounts by EVMs in political party primaries in Puerto Rico, a Caribbean island controlled by the US.

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“We should eliminate electronic voting machines. The risk of being hacked by humans or AI, while small, is still too high,” Musk wrote.

On Sunday morning, former Union electronics and IT minister Rajeev Chandrasekhar contested Musk’s stand, denying that Indian EVMs could be hacked. Shortly, a host of Opposition leaders including Rahul Gandhi and Akhilesh Yadav repeated their longstanding doubts about the credibility of the EVMs.

“This is a huge sweeping generalization statement that implies no one can build secure digital hardware. Wrong. @elonmusk’s view may apply to US n other places — where they use regular compute platforms to build Internet connected Voting machines,” Chandrasekhar tweeted.

“But Indian EVMs are custom designed, secure and isolated from any network or media -- No connectivity, no bluetooth, wifi, Internet. ie there is no way in. Factory programmed controllers that cannot be reprogrammed. Electronic voting machines can be architected and built right as India has done. We wud be happy to run a tutorial Elon.”

Musk responded: “Anything can be hacked.”

To this, Chandrasekhar — who lost the recent Lok Sabha polls on a BJP ticket — replied: “Technically ur right - anything is possible E.g..wth quantum compute, i can decrypt any level of encryption, with lab level tech n plenty of resources, i can hack any digital hardware/ system incldng flight controls of a glass cockpit of a jet etc etc. But thats a different type of a conversatn from EVMs being secure n reliable vis a vis paper voting.”

Opposition politicians in India soon jumped in.

Rahul quoted Musk and tweeted: “EVMs in India are a ‘black box,’ and nobody is allowed to scrutinize them. Serious concerns are being raised about transparency in our electoral process. Democracy ends up becoming a sham and prone to fraud when institutions lack accountability.”

Trinamool MP Jawhar Sircar wrote on X: “We have been doubting EVMs — but Election Commission stubbornly refuses to listen or discuss. Now even Elon Musk speaks against EVMs.”

Akhilesh, Samajwadi Party president and MP, demanded that all elections be conducted through paper ballots.

“‘Technology’ is meant to solve problems, if it becomes the cause of problems then its use should be stopped,” he tweeted.

“Today, when fears of EVM tampering are being expressed in many elections of the world and the world’s renowned technology experts are openly writing about the danger of EVM tampering, then what is the reason behind the insistence on using EVM, BJP should clarify this. We reiterate our demand that all future elections be conducted using ballot papers.”

DMK parliamentarian P. Wilson tweeted: “After dispensing with the ballot paper system, EVMs were introduced for technological advancement, to create foolproof machines that prevent rigging and tampering, reduce workforce, and expedite result announcements.

“However, there have been numerous reports and documented cases showing that they are susceptible to tampering.

“Since many countries don’t trust EVMs, why does the ECI hold on to them? Why doesn’t @ECISVEEP arrange for a scientific analysis of EVMs to be conducted by experts in the presence of a Parliamentary Committee composed of MPs from all parties? Then, submit a white paper before both houses and have a debate on it to address the ongoing fears among the people of this country.”

The Election Commission had in 2017 invited political parties to demonstrate how EVMs could be remotely “hacked”, as some were claiming. Only the NCP and the CPM participated, and both objected to the restrictions imposed by the poll panel on their ability to touch the machine.

The EVMs used in Indian elections, manufactured by two PSUs, have since 2017 had paper trails, as mandated by the Supreme Court. Critics have cited this as a breach of the EVMs’ insulation from other systems. However, the poll panel says that only the EVM’s control unit can transmit to the paper trail machine and not vice versa.

The US uses a range of EVM technologies, distinct from that used in India. Former US President Donald Trump blamed the voting machines for his electoral defeat in 2020.

The Election Commission of India has not commented on Musk’s claims. However, election authorities in Mumbai have denied a news report about a suspected attempt to hack EVMs and ordered action against two publications.

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