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    Here’s All You Need To Know About YSR Congress Party’s Accusations Against TDP Regarding Voter Profiling and Bribery Via ‘WeApp’

    The Yuvajana Sramika Rythu Congress Party (YSRCP) has written to the Election Commission of India (ECI) complaining against alleged voter profiling and voter bribing by the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) members in Andhra Pradesh through an application called ‘WeApp’.   

    The official complaint to the ECI on May 10, reviewed by MediaNama, raised critical allegations against the TDP regarding illegal gathering of booth-level voter data, distribution of voter slips with party candidate’s photo, and offering monetary benefits to individuals in exchange for their votes, thereby undermining the integrity of free and fair elections in the State.

    Key accusations made by the YSRCP in the complaint

    1. About ‘WeApp’: The ruling party informed in its complaint that the application is not available for download on conventional platforms like Google Play Store or Apple App Store. Instead, it is provided to booth-level “convenors and party functionaries”, and access is controlled through registrations in TDP offices. Additionally, the application package (APK) is shared through specific channels. Importantly, the app is customised for individual constituencies, for instance, the letter provides a screenshot of the app for Ongole constituency called ‘WeApp Ongole’.

    2. Profiling voters: The letter informed that the app facilitates aggregation of voter data including name, age, gender, familial information, contact details, caste, local residency status, political affiliations, occupation, voter ID numbers, and booth numbers. The information is segregated as per assembly constituencies and polling booths.

    The YSRCP has accused the TDP of stealing the personal data of voters through unauthorized access to the computer networks, for targeted political campaigning and voter manipulation. This they say is punishable under Section 66B [punishment for receiving and retaining stolen computer resource] of the Information Technology Act 2000 and Section 379 [defines punishment for theft] of the Indian Penal Code. Further, in disclosing people’s personal information with other members of the party, the YSRCP alleged that the TDP has also violated Section 72 [defines penalty for breaching privacy and confidentiality] of the IT Act.

    3. Manipulating voter slips and bribery: According to the written complaint, WeApp also enables users to generate voter slips, which are distributed among the voters. These slips consist of unique barcoded pamphlets with the names of the contesting candidates and the respective party symbols, allowing the party to track the distribution and response rate among voters. Alongside distribution of slips, party workers are also accused of bribing voters with money and other benefits to influence them into voting for TDP.

    Using the contact information procured through “WeApp”, money is transferred directly to voters’ UPI accounts as a form of inducement to secure their votes, this direct transfer of funds to personal accounts of voters not only constitutes a form of bribery but also represents a sophisticated method of influencing voter behaviour through financial means,” the complaint highlighted.

    These activities violate provisions of the Representation of the People Act, 1951, and is considered as bribery under Section 171(B) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC). The letter also apprised the ECI that YSRCP-supporting voters were being threatened by the TDP, and alleged that this interferes with the electoral rights of the candidates as defined under Section 171(C)(2) and punishable under Section 171F of the IPC.

    Demanding the ECI to take urgent action

    The YSRCP has urged the ECI to take the following actions against the alleged election-related offences conducted by the TDP:

    • The party has urged the Chief Election Commissioner and the Chief Electoral Officer of Andhra Pradesh to direct the police and all other authorities observing the electoral process to oversee the verification of devices consisting of the WeApp.
    • The letter has requested the Commission to instruct Returning Officers, District Superintendents of Police, and Commissioners of Police to “rigorously inspect” all devices and also issue directions for immediate seizure of such devices on discovery of prima facie evidence. “The preservation of digital evidence is vital for substantiating legal charges and ensuring that those responsible are held accountable under the law,” the complaint noted.
    • YSRCP has also urged “immediate and rigorous legal action” against senior TDP leaders and candidates who were involved in deploying the system, and the booth-level coordinators who are “complicit in this conspiracy”.

    TDP has faced similar allegations in the past

    Technology researcher and expert Srinivas Kodali, in an analysis of the issue for BoomLive, pointed out that the ECI had issued an advisory in May directing all political parties to stop enrolling or registering voters for post-election benefits or schemes under the guise of surveys. It noted that such activities would be considered a “corrupt practice of bribery” under Section 123(1) of the Representation of the People Act, 1951.

    The analysis also pointed out that the ECI had failed to investigate a similar app called Sevamitra deployed by the TDP during the 2019 elections. It must be highlighted that IT Grids Pvt Ltd, the company that was operating TDP’s Sevamitra application was facing a case filed by Unique Identification Data Authority of India (UIDAI) Hyderabad regional office. The complaint accused that the company, which was allegedly in possession of 78 million Aadhaar records, of illegally accessing and misusing Aadhaar number, Voter ID details including coloured photographs, and beneficiary details of various government services, and “data related to surveys conducted by the Government of Andhra Pradesh” for use in the Sevamitra app.

    In September 2022, the Andhra Pradesh House Committee reported unauthorized data transfers from 18 government servers to external servers between December 2018 and March 2019. The transferred data likely included sensitive citizen information collected through the Praja Sadhikara Survey. The users of the IP addresses involved were not identified, but Committee Chairman MLA Bhumana Karunkar Reddy alleged the data was sent to the TDP’s Seva Mitra app, which was allegedly used for election rigging, a claim the TDP denied.

    Citizen data can be misused for electioneering

    Several States have undertaken family database projects, which essentially enable viewing all information of an individual from different government databases on one digital platform, thereby creating a 360-degree profile of every citizen. While speaking about these projects, experts that MediaNama spoke to derived inferences from the Cambridge Analytica revelations, which demonstrated how huge amounts of online profiles of citizens can be used by political parties for targeted election campaigning and voter manipulation. Read MediaNama’s detailed report about the state family database projects here.

    Moreover, instances of electoral frauds exposing booth-level data to unauthorised agencies have also raised alarms in the past. Srikanth explained that “when such booth-level data is juxtaposed with this (SFDB) kind of granular socio-economic data, which covers for people who are not even on social media, it becomes to accurately predict or reverse predict an individual’s voting choice or political inclination with “reasonable confidence”.

    MediaNama Founder-Editor Nikhil Pahwa had pointed in 2019 that:

    “Allowing candidates and parties to segment their voter base and communicating with them is important for democracy, but there need to be steps taken that this communication is transparent and fair, and the collection and usage of data is lawful and not violating the Fundamental Right to Privacy.”

    Read more about MediaNama’s recommendations for the ECI in the past to prevent political usage of citizen data.

    Also Read:

    The post Here’s All You Need To Know About YSR Congress Party’s Accusations Against TDP Regarding Voter Profiling and Bribery Via ‘WeApp’ appeared first on MEDIANAMA.

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