Pirates of personal data

It is deplorable that Chandrababu Naidu has chosen to hurl accusations of vengeance against the Telangana government instead of coming clean

AuthorPublished: 6th Mar 2019  12:23 am

A desi version of the ‘Cambridge Analytica’ scandal has exploded in the face of the Telugu Desam Party. It cannot escape the culpability by aggressive finger-pointing at political rivals and invoking conspiracy theories. In fact, Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu owes an explanation to the people as to how an IT company engaged by his party could get access to the database of the State voters and how their personal details were misused to further the interests of the ruling party. It has now emerged that Hyderabad-based IT Grids India Private Limited has mined the personal data of Andhra voters, including their caste, political leanings and family details, for voter profiling ahead of the general elections. This was done under an innocuous cover of developing a mobile app ‘Seva Mitra’, ostensibly meant to provide real-time updates to the TDP cadre by connecting them to the party leaders. The private firm was provided the data of nearly 3.70 crore voters of AP, including their Aadhaar numbers, photos and mobile numbers. Everything was amalgamated and uploaded in the app used by the party cadre for voter profiling. The allegation is that the company was processing the government database without the consent of citizens. This amounts to serious data breach and warrants a multi-agency probe to ferret out the truth and expose the culprits. The case is reminiscent of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, which shook the world last year for the sheer enormity of the data breach and fraudulent mining of personal data of millions of Facebook users by taking advantage of the lax data permissions of the social networking giant and using it for political marketing and user-specific campaign strategies.

A much more serious fallout of the data theft was that the TDP activists were given the task of identifying the non-TDP voters so that their names can be deleted from the electoral rolls based on voter profiling. There is a clear link between the misuse of data and deletion of voters’ names in AP, as reflected by an unusual spurt in the number of online applications submitted to the Election Commission for deletion of voters from the electoral rolls. It is deplorable that Chandrababu Naidu has chosen to hurl accusations of vengeance against the Telangana government instead of coming clean on the charge of data theft. The scam came to light after a whistleblower of the company, T Lokeshwar Reddy, lodged a complaint based on which the Telangana police registered a case under Sections 66 and 72 of IT Act. Instead of protecting the whistleblower for blowing the lid off the scandal, the AP police raided his residence, violating the jurisdiction limits, and subjected him to harassment.