Indian Court Extends Custody of Voting Machine Researcher

A researcher in India who has been charged with the theft of an electronic voting machine (EVM) was on Thursday remanded to two more days in police custody by a magistrate in Mumbai.

Hari Prasad and other researchers released a video earlier this year which they said demonstrated vulnerabilities in the EVMs used by India's Election Commission. Prasad told IDG News Service in April that he had used a working EVM, that had been used earlier in an election.

He had received the EVM from an anonymous source, Prasad said.

The Election Commission said on Sunday that it filed a case in May with the police in Mumbai, as it found that the EVM control unit used by Prasad and colleagues in a TV program had been stolen from the custody of the District Election Officer in Mumbai.

Prasad was arrested on Saturday in Hyderabad in Andhra Pradesh state, and then transferred to Mumbai. He was remanded to police custody in Mumbai until Thursday.

Ravindra Wani, the police officer investigating the case, said on Thursday that the police have still not recovered the missing EVM. When asked who had given him the EVM, Prasad said he did not remember, Wani said.

The remand to police custody is a misuse of jails to harass citizens who aim to reform the election system, said GVL Narasimha Rao, president of the Citizens' Forum for promoting Verifiability, Transparency and Accountability in Indian Elections (VeTA), and an associate of Prasad.

"If he has not remembered so far who gave it to him, how can the police expect him to remember in the next two days?" Rao asked. Prasad is suffering from "breathing problems" that have gotten worse in jail, he added.

The police should be investigating the District Election Officer who was responsible for the safe custody of the EVM, Rao said.

VeTA demands that a verifiable paper trail should be provided on EVMs, or the country should go back to traditional ballot boxes.

Opposition members of India's parliament on Thursday criticized the arrest of Prasad, and warned that EVMs were not tamper-proof. "A computer readjustment of the program (in an EVM) and we will be sitting in the opposition forever," said Maneka Gandhi, a member of Parliament, according to the Press Trust of India, a news agency.

The hack of the EVM control unit by Prasad and his team involved replacing the display board of the machine with a look-alike component that could be instructed through a Bluetooth connection on a mobile phone to steal a percentage of the votes in favor of a chosen candidate. Another attack used a pocket-sized device that could be attached to the memory of the EVM to change the votes stored in the EVM, during the period between the election and the public counting session, Prasad said in April.

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