India's poll panel declines Google voting services offer over security concerns

Google was to help the country's election commission with voter facilitation services

A proposal by Google to offer voter lookup services was declined by the Election Commission of India, after cybersecurity experts and political parties voiced concern about the plan's security implications.

The commission on Thursday confirmed that it had seen a Google presentation for electoral lookup services to provide information to voters. "However after due consideration, the Commission has decided not to pursue the proposal any further," it said in a statement.

Google offered the commission, in a presentation on Tuesday, facilities for free online voter registration, search and other services, the Press Trust of India reported. The report drew criticism on the belief that the collaboration would provide Google with access to a vast amount of data on Indians.

To register online as a voter on the commission website, people have to provide their email IDs and mobile phone numbers, said Jiten Jain, a member of Indian Infosec Consortium, a group of cybersecurity experts. By the tie-up with the commission, Google would have access to the email IDs, mobile phone numbers and the IP addresses of voters who register online, he added.

"Tying with Google was tantamount to tying up with the U.S. NSA [National Security Agency]," said Jain, who cited media reports that the agency may have access to real-time to data on the servers of Internet companies. Indian companies and agencies can provide the services offered by Google to the poll commission, he added.

Google, however, said it was only providing publicly available data through a voter lookup tool.

"It is unfortunate that our discussion with the Election Commission of India to change the way users access their electoral information, that is publicly available, through an online voter look up tool, were not fruitful," Google said in a statement after the decision of the commission.

The company said it would continue to develop tools and resources "to make civic information universally accessible and useful, help drive more informed citizen participation, and open up new avenues for engagement for politicians, citizens, and civic leaders."

John Ribeiro covers outsourcing and general technology breaking news from India for The IDG News Service. Follow John on Twitter at @Johnribeiro. John's e-mail address is john_ribeiro@idg.com

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