Much ado about data privacy of voters list

Operation Twins

The CPI (M) has accused Opposition Leader Ramesh Chennithala of leaking data on voters and publishing them on a server located in Singapore. However, the accusation does not hold water in the face off facts.

Mr. Chennithala had published data on 4.34 lakh persons in the voters’ lists for the upcoming Kerala Assembly Elections, whose photos appear under different names in the same constituency or other constituencies or whose names appear more than once in the lists, on the site operationtwins.com. Voters’ lists are data in the public domain, so no leak has taken place.

Voters list is not sensitive data under the IT Act and Rules unlike health information which is defined as sensitive (recall the controversy over Springler).   Information Technology (Reasonable Security Practices and procedures and sensitive personal data or information) Rules, 2011 also has a proviso to Section 3 that says that “any information that is freely available or accessible in public domain or furnished under the Right to Information Act, 2005, or any other law for the time being in force  shall  not  be  regarded  as  sensitive  personal  data  or  information  for  the  purposes  of  these rules”.

It is true that the Web server is located in Singapore. However, that does not alter the legal position. Voters list is data officially published under the law and accessible in public domain.

The only thing that you can accuse the Opposition Leader is that there are some errors in his list of bogus voters. Besides, he was not honest enough to include some duplicate entries of Congress candidates and their relatives in the list. Possibly because of limitations of photo matching, the names of twins have been flagged as duplicate entries, with operation twins thus causing some heartburn to real twins. While a chunk of data point to fraud, other duplicate entries could be the result of failure of the officials to delete previous entries when voter requests change of address or corrections.  It is clear that sufficient diligence had not been shown by electoral officers.

Mr. Chennithala has chosen to register a domain with commercial extension for the site and keeping the registrant information private. He could have chosen extensions (top level domains) like .in or .org.in. But it is a matter that hinge on availability/personal choice/ignorance. The person who registered the site probably did not register the site in the name of Mr. Chennithala and wanted to keep his name private.

It may also be noted that the accusations against Mr. Chennithala comes when there is demand for publishing of more data relating to electoral process internationally by organisations like the Open Election Data Initiative. So, Mr. Chennithala’s initiative is setting up a site to expose electoral malpractices is laudatory.

In fact, Mr. Chennithala has been raising a number of allegations against the LDF government. If even a fraction of them are correct, that do not bode well for the State. If the LDF is re-elected to power, the government would be at the mercy of Central agencies. This can give rise to deals between the CPI (M) and the BJP or even instability of the government.

However, this may not be a problem for Chief Minister Pinarai Vijayan to manage for he has already taken a few leaves from Modi’s note book to retain power and pelf.

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