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Parliament: Election Commission claims tight ‘airgap’ between electoral rolls and Aadhaar database

The Election Commission of India claims it is taking “multiple measures” for the security of electoral roll data platform, stating that it “does not enter” the Aadhaar ecosystem. Instead, a tight “air gap” is maintained between them to prevent theft and hijacking of data, the Commission said.

The Ministry of Law & Justice placed the ECI’s statements in Parliament on Wednesday, in response to a question by DMK MP Dayanidhi Maran about the status of Aadhaar-Voter ID linkage, its data security, and other details. The proposal to link electoral roll and Aadhaar, with the stated aim being to address duplication of voters, will require amendments in election-related laws and is under consideration of the government, the Ministry added.

This comes as no surprise. The possibility of linking electoral photo identity card (EPIC) with Aadhaar has been under discussion since at least a year when the Election Commission took it up with the Ministry of Law and Justice. The Commission had pushed for it in an official communication to the Ministry in August 2019, detailing how exactly the Representation of People Act would have to be amended to accommodate such linkage. These recommendations were sent after the Commission met with UIDAI. In August 2018, ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, seven national and 34 state political parties had urged the Commission to link Voter IDs with the Aadhaar card in order to weed out duplicate voter names.

The Commission had even begun linking back in 2015 under National Electoral Roll Purification and Authentication Programme (NERPAP), but this was suspended after a Supreme Court order related to the Aadhaar case.

Maran wanted to know whether the government proposes to amend existing laws that will allow the Election Commission to access the Aadhaar database for verification purposes and removal if duplication. The Law Ministry full response to that was:

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The ECI has said that it has taken multiple measures for the safety and security of electoral roll data platform. Electoral roll database system does not enter into the Aadhaar ecosystem and the system is used only for the authentication purpose keeping a tight air-gap between the two system. These measures effectively prevent theft interception and high jacking of the voter system. [emphasis supplied]

The Commission and UIDAI will not get access to one another’s databases and technical experts will maintain air gaps between them, a senior Commission official had told MediaNama over a year ago. For linkage, which will not be mandatory, the Commission will create a platform.

In response to whether the Ministry has received any instruction from the Supreme Court to protect data linked with Aadhaar and Voter ID from misuse, the Ministry simply said “No”.

De-duplication software run to weed out bogus voters: ECI

In another response by the Law Ministry in Parliament, the Commission said it runs de-duplication software at polling booths and assembly constituency level to identify possible duplicates or repeated entries before electoral rolls are revised. It also orders roll purification drives from time to time to remove duplicates. Electoral Roll Officers (EROs) concerned find out where and when probable duplicates might be and proceed to remove duplicates after getting this verified with field Booth Level Officers (BLOs), while “following due procedure of law”. EROs also remove repeat entries by continuously updating electoral rolls.

The Ministry gave these responses to BJP MPs Pratima Bhoumik, Bhagirath Choudhary, Devji M. Patel, Ranjeetsingh Hindurao Naik Nimbalkar, who wanted to know how the government plans to identify bogus voters. The Commission said it also runs house-to-house verification dead or shifted voters, has a public helpline, and makes electoral rolls public online for public scrutiny.

Last month, the Election Commission had postponed its plan to allow citizens to download an e-Electoral Photo ID Card, or e-EPIC. The Commission said it is prioritizing newly enrolled voters and only those voters who have been newly enrolled during the year’s first Special Summary Revision (SSR) are eligible to download an e-EPIC. That doesn’t necessarily mean that people who successfully registered to vote this year are eligible; users will also have to have been included in the SSR this year, which may not be the case if their registrations were approved after that roll was prepared.

In January, the Commission said that it will start issuing digital voter IDs and accept e-KYC, presumably Aadhaar-based, on the National Voters’ Services Portal, a change that was possible groundwork for all EPICs and Aadhaar to be linked.

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