Hackathon starts June 3: EC opens challenge to prove EVMs tamper-proof

Age Correspondent With Agency Inputs

India, All India

EC bars foreign experts, says event may last 4-5 days.

Chief Election Commissioner Nasim Zaidi. (Photo: PTI)

New Delhi: The Election Commission announced on Saturday that it would hold an open challenge from June 3 for political parties to prove their allegations that Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) can be tampered with to favour a particular candidate or a party. The Aam Aadmi Party immediately said that this was not enough and accused the poll body of backing out of its “promise” to hold a “hackathon”. 

Each party would be allowed to nominate three Indian members for the challenge that will last for 4-5 days. Parties have to confirm their participation by 5 pm on May 26.

Each participating group will be given four hours to prove its claim. Participants would be considered to have “failed” the challenge if EVMs stop functioning due their inbuilt anti-tampering mechanism.

The challenge follows charges that EVMs used in the Assembly elections in five states in February-March were rigged. Chief Election Commissioner Nasim Zaidi, however, said that these parties have not given any credible proof till now.

The challenge would only be open to national and state parties, which contested these Assembly polls, and they would not be allowed to change the motherboards of EVMs or take the machines home to prove at a later date that they can be tampered with.

“Any party can only choose four EVMs used in any four constituencies in the last Assembly polls to demonstrate the tamperability. The claimant will have to prove that the results were altered on EVMs with admin and tech safeguards,” Mr Zaidi said. 

He also said the event should not be seen as a “prestige issue” by anyone. The challenge would be judged by members of the poll body’s technical expert committee.

Countering claims by the Opposition parties, chiefly the AAP, Mr Zaidi said that EVMs are not “hackable” as these are standalone machines not connected to the Internet or any other network at any point of time during polling. 

“EVMs do not have any frequency receiver or data decoder for wireless and hence cannot receive any coded signal by wireless. Hence no tampering can be carried out through external hardware Wireless, Wi-Fi or Bluetooth device,” he said. 

He said that any manipulation at the manufacturing stage is also ruled out, as there is a very stringent security protocol. Even the results of EVMs cannot be tampered with using a Trojan Horse through a sequence of key presses because the chip of an EVM can be programmed only once, he said. 

Mr Zaidi said an EVM’s components cannot be changed without anyone noticing as all three different components — the control unit, the ballot unit and the VVPAT unit — are randomised and set up together only at the polling station. 

This in effect means that to alter the results, each EVM has to be tampered with, he said.

AAP, which recently held a “demonstration” inside the Delhi Assembly to claim that it hacked into an EVM “prototype”, said that the poll body was backing out of holding a hackathon. Its leader Sanjay Singh said, “Setting conditions for hacking EVMs is akin to asking someone to swim with his hands and legs tied.” 

Reacting to it, the Election Commission said that what the party was demanding was changing the internal circuit of a device which for an electronic device would be like changing the whole device itself, after which it is no longer the same.

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