Hyderabad: A day after voters alleged that their contact details have been leaked to the political parties, independent researcher Srinivas Kodali filed a complaint with the Election Commission against possible breach of data by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Mr. Kodali, in his complaint on 15 December, said the draft voter rolls of the Mahabubnagar-Rangareddy-Hyderabad graduate constituency of Telangana Legislative Council were published on 8 December. "After this, I and several others in the constituency started receiving text messages from BJP floor leader and MLC N. Ramchander Rao about our enrollment in the voter rolls," he said.

Mr. Rao is the BJP MLC from Mahabubnagar- Rangareddy-Hyderabad graduates constituency and his term is set to end on 29 March 2021.

Meanwhile, refuting the allegations, the MLC said, "To file a complaint is digital illiteracy. We have the machinery and the cadres on the ground who collect phone numbers. The Election Commission gave the voter list not only to us but to every party. We match the voter list with our contact database and then send the texts."

He further said, "We have hired 100 people to work on the ground. They go door to door to collect details of voters. We have around 2.5 lakh contact details in our database which we gathered through years of hard work of our cadres." He added that anyone can use their knowledge and the machinery to get phone numbers.

On 14 December NewsMeter had reported that hundreds of voters who are set to cast their votes in next year's MLC graduate election had received a text message from BJP MLC Ramchander Rao. The message read, "I am extremely delighted to inform you that you have been successfully enrolled as a voter on the rolls of HYD-RR-MBNR graduates MLC constituency. Looking forward for your support and blessing to give me another opportunity to work for better society. Regards, N Ramchander Rao, MLC, BJP Floor leader, TSLC."

Mr. Kodali said he has not shared his mobile number with the MLC or the BJP and has not consented to receive any messages from them. "From the looks of it, there has been a data breach of MLC voters' data, including their mobile numbers, either through a malicious cyber incident or administrative lapse. Or Mr. Ramchander has obtained the data using fraudulent means," the researcher added.

He also pointed out that the misuse of the election infrastructure by either political parties or administrative officials is a gross violation of the election procedure. It also can lead to micro-targeting of voters without their consent by violating their privacy. "It is the responsibility of the Election Commission to protect voters' privacy and I request you personally to launch an enquiry into this matter. The commission needs to order a full cyber forensic investigation of its database and also summon Mr. Ramchander Rao to explain how he obtained my personal details," Mr Kodali said in his complaint.

He has also filed a complaint with the cyber crime police alleging that Mr. Ramchander Rao and the BJP illegally obtained the phone numbers of voters in Telangana. "This data along with several others in Telangana could have likely been breached from the servers of the office of the chief electoral officer of Telangana where I have registered for the MLC graduate electoral elections," said Mr. Kodali in his complaint.

He requested the cyber crime department to conduct an investigation under Section 66, 70, 72A, and 80 of the IT Act 2008.

Many of the cyber activist raise questions regarding the storage and security of the voters' personal data. "Is this data being willfully distributed by Election Commission to the political parties? Or are these details being scrapped from the Election Commission's website? In either case, this allows political parties to micro-target voters, a process over which EC has no guidelines for content regulation, and fails to protect the voter from harmful and micro-targeted messaging from political parties", says Kiran Chandra, General Secretary of the Free Software Movement of India (FSMI)

Sumit Kumar Jha

Sumit Kumar Jha is currently a multimedia journalist with Newsmeter. An alumnus of Hyderabad Central University and Amity University, he has interned with The New Indian Express and CGNet Swara. Sumit has also worked with video production houses in Mumbai as an assistant director in shows like 21 Sarfrosh for Discovery Jeet. He is specialised in Video Production. He was also the contributor at PARI network. Hailing from rural Bihar has spent his childhood shifting from places and people. Growing up he felt the need to document the lives and dreams of rural India. A lover of visual storytelling goes around the cities to search for Stories. He primarily reports on civic, human interest and data stories.

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