Article 21 Trust collaborated with One Vote Project and curated the One Vote Annual Conference on 25th January 2022, in which issues related to the use of technology in elections in India were discussed.
Speaking on Databasing of Voters and Concerns on privacy of Voters, Usha Ramanathan, a legal scholar, highlighted the issue in relation to the Linking of Aadhaar with the voter ID. She said that founding members of UIDAI conceded that the database created was never to be used by the state and that the State usurped the project. The focus was always on the creation of digital infrastructure. She expressed consternation over the fact that the government has not provided any data on the extent of duplicates in the electoral roll and why their other systems to deal with duplicates are not working.
Speaking on ‘How to fix an Indian election’, Anand Venkatanarayanan focused on how data and narratives are enabling parties in power to ‘hack’ elections. He stressed that the way elections are played out in India, gives a very unfair advantage to one party and it is unfair to voters and opposition parties. He argued that this is done by creating information asymmetries- the information, institutions and resources- which feed off each other.
Nayantara Ranganathan focused on political advertising on Facebook and issues of transparency and accountability around it. She highlighted how ads on social media are basically content that the advertiser pays the social media platform to circulate more than it would normally circulate. She explained this with an example of an ad by the BJP targeted at first-time voters and she displayed the political advertising transparency data made available by Facebook on that ad. She noted that the problem with transparency only applies to ads which are identified as ‘political’ ads and what political ads are political is determined by Facebook by looking at two things - who is creating the ads, and what the ad is about? She said that Facebook has created a binary between ads classified as commercial and advocacy and all ads which are commercial are not considered political and will not have transparency information available about them. It is in Facebook’s interest to keep the number of political ads on its platform low so that there are minimal demands for transparency.
SQ Masood addressed on Introduction of Facial Recognition for Electoral Roll verification in Hyderabad. He pointed out two major issues with electoral rolls - errors and multiple entries and he said that in the deduplication drive genuine voters are at the receiving end. He also pointed out that on 10 polling booths, the Telangana State Technological Services identified voters through facial recognition technology. He argued that the success rate was between 63-85%. He argues that there is no accountability in cases of errors and there have been a lot of arbitrary powers.
Speaking on Surveillance Democracy, Seema Chishti began by saying that the position of India has declined on democracy-related indicators and the Freedom House report declared India to be partly freed. She also highlighted the fact that as per the report, India was also among the biggest surveillance states next only to Russia and China when it comes to surveilling its citizens. She spoke on ‘big fish’ surveillance such as Pegasus and of ‘small fish’ surveillance- a gathering of all kinds of data on ordinary citizens, these could be about their political or sexual orientation, views, locations etc. and while an ordinary citizen might feel they have nothing to hide, this information can be used to manipulate them. For instance, this can be used to target polarizing political ads which can destroy the basis of democracy.
To watch the complete deliberations of the conference, please click here
To read the summary of the conference, kindly click here