Business Today, a part of the India Today group, on 13th October published an article titled “US Scientists ‘hack’ Indian Electronic Voting Machines ahead of polls in five States” claiming that ahead of the legislative assembly elections in five states, scientists at the University of Michigan have found a way to ‘hack’ into the Indian EVMs.
However, on 21st October, Business Today deleted the article after the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting pointed out that the story is actually based on a study from 2009 and Business Today had not disclosed the said fact.
An excerpt of the story which appears on a website The Voting News is produced below:
The Election Commission of India announced the dates for Assembly polls in Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Mizoram, Rajasthan and Telangana last week. Along with the dates, the poll regulating authority in India announced that VVPAT-enabled electronic voting machines will be used during these polls. Additionally, the country is looking at an eventful General Elections in 2019. Now, with barely a month left before states go to elections, scientists at the University of Michigan claim to have found a way to ‘hack’ Indian EVMs. A video posted online showed the scientists at the US university supposedly manipulating voting results on an electronic voting machine (EVM) via mobile text messages after attaching a home-made device to the machine, a BBC News report said.
“We made an imitation display board that looks almost exactly like the real display in the machines. But underneath some of the components of the board, we hide a microprocessor and a Bluetooth radio,” Professor J Alex Halderman, who led this project to hack EVMs, told BBC.
The imitation display board intercepts the vote totals that the machine is supposed to show, and replaces them with fabricated results, “basically whatever the bad guy wants to show up at the end of the election”, Halderman said.
Over these additions, the University of Michigan researchers added a microprocessor to the EVM, which they claim can alter the results between voting and counting of votes, the BBC report added.
The BBC report quoted above is from 2010. In the BBC report, ‘after connecting a homemade device to a machine, the University of Michigan researchers were able to change results by sending text messages from a phone. Even then, the Election Commission of India had dismissed possibilities of hacking into an EVM.
India’s then Deputy Election Commissioner, Alok Shukla had said that even getting hold of machines to tamper with would be very difficult. He had added that it is not just the machine but the overall administrative safeguard which makes it impossible to hack into the EVM.
The Ministry in its letter to Business Today came down heavily and reprimanded the editor for unethical writing. “It is noted that the 13th October 2018 news story, in fact, has maliciously linked an earlier 2009 story without disclosing the fact that a nine-year-old dated information has been picked up masquerading as a recent study.”
The letter further called the story a “deliberate attempt at using a reputed magazine to mislead the voters with a predetermined agenda of disrupting free, fair and peaceful electoral process just when the Election Commission is gearing up for the upcoming polls.” The fact that currently there is no Deputy Election Commission should have been a giveaway that the material is dated, shows how Business Today even failed to verify the basic facts.
In its letter, the ministry even explained how it is hard to hack into the EVMs because of the various precautionary measures were taken by the EC to safeguard them. The ministry reminds Business Today that since the 2009 study surfaced, several High Courts as well as the Supreme Court, have upheld the EVMs as a completely tamper-proof system.
This is not the first time the ‘EVMs are prone to hacking’ conspiracies are floated by the Opposition. Aam Aadmi Party has driven itself almost insane trying to prove that the EVMs are hacked by the Modi government. AAP MLA Saurabh Bhardwaj has even gone ahead and tried to ‘hack’ into a toy EVM to prove his point. Even though Congress and Aam Aadmi Party have desperately tried to prove that EVMs are hacked into by the BJP and that we should all move back in time and go to paper ballots, none of them took the challenge thrown by the Election Commission last year to prove that the EVMs are not tamper-proof.
Amidst all this, the mischief by Business Today cannot be ignored.
Letter from the ministry is reproduced below:
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Such misleading news during the election season can certainly cause an element of panic among the people.