Musk’s EVM remark sparks row in India

| | New Delhi
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Musk’s EVM remark sparks row in India

Monday, 17 June 2024 | Pioneer News Service | New Delhi

More than a week after the Lok Sabha election results, the debate over Electronic Voting Machines (EVM) once again started after Tesla CEO Elon Musk sparked a fresh controversy by vouching for the elimination of EVMs over the risk of “hacking”.

Former Minister of State of IT and BJP leader Rajeev Chandrasekhar, however, countered his statement saying India’s EVMs are robustly secure, in fact very different from those used in other countries. Chandrasekhar countered Musk’s statement with a detailed explanation of India’s approach to EVM technology. Chandrasekhar asserted that EVMs in India are custom-designed, secure, and isolated from any network or media.

The Tesla CEO’s remarks on EVM came in response to US politician Robert F Kennedy Jr’s post in which he had raised the issue of EVM irregularities in Puerto Rico’s primary elections.

Kennedy is contesting the US Presidential elections 2024 as an Independent candidate.

Later, former Congress chief Rahul Gandhi, Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav and INDIA Bloc also joined in, backing Musk’s apprehension of EVMs. Notably, the Opposition did not raise the issue of EVM hacking or malpractices after the Lok Sabha results announced.

“EVMs in India are a ‘black box,’ and nobody is allowed to scrutinise 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,” said Rahul while his coalition partner Akhilesh also shared Musk’s post. “Technology is to remove problems, if they become a cause of problems, their use must be stopped. When risks of EVM tampering are being flagged in several elections across the world and well-known technology experts are flagging risks, the BJP must clear the air on why they are bent on using EVMs”. 

Prior to Lok Sabha results, they had alleged that there was a possibility of the ruling BJP tampering with electronic voting machines to turn poll outcomes in their favour.

Musk, in his own social media platform post on X, raised concerns about EVMs, suggesting they should be eliminated due to the potential risk of being hacked by humans or AI, even if the risk is minimal.

“This is a huge sweeping generalisation statement that implies no one can build secure digital hardware. Wrong,” Chandrashekhar said, adding “Elon Musk’s view may apply to US and other places — where they use regular compute platforms to build Internet connected Voting machines.”

The Indian EVMs, the BJP leader claimed, are custom designed with now way in.

“…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,” he said.

The former IT Minister also offered to run a tutorial on how EVMs can be built right. “Electronic voting machines can be architected and built right as India has done. We would be happy to run a tutorial, Elon,” he added.

However, the Tesla chief was firm on his assertions and rejected the BJP leader’s claim saying “anything can be hacked”. Musk had raised concerns that the risk of EVMs being hacked by humans or AI was too high and that they should be eliminated.

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

Rajya Sabha MP and Shiv Sena (Uddhav Balasaheb Thackeray) leader Priyanka Chaturvedi took the opportunity to flag reports on Mumbai election. “This is a fraud at the highest level and yet the @ECISVEEP continues to sleep,” she said in a social media post.

Amid the raging controversy, BJP IT Cell in-charge Amit Malviya issued a challenge to the Tesla CEO and a put-down to Rahul. “Elon Musk or whoever else thinks they can hack the EVM should approach the Election Commission of India and take a shot at it. But why is Rahul Gandhi complaining about Indian democracy to Musk? What can Musk do? Or is crying before the world and demeaning India part of Congress’s DNA? We just had an election and people of India rejected this dynast for a third time in row. But he still does not get it…,” tweeted Malviya.

 The Election Commission maintains that the EVMs constitute a viable voting method and robust technical and administrative safeguards are in place for their use. An EVM has a control unit and a balloting unit. These are connected by a cable. These are also connected with a VVPAT -- Voter Verified Paper Audit Trail -- machine. This machine enables a voter to see if the vote was cast properly and went to the candidate he/she supports. European nations have reverted to the ballot voting system.


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