With Lok Sabha elections about 45 days away, an official app of Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu’s Telugu Desam Party is being investigated by the Election Commission and the police over allegations of voter profiling, privacy breach and misuse of citizen data.
The app, Seva Mitra, was designed by a private company to help TDP cadre and volunteers connect with the party in realtime.
The app was found to be storing detailed information of Andhra Pradesh voters, including their caste, political leanings and family data. The state had 3.5 crore voters in 2018, who could be at risk of having their information profiled.
While activists and opposition parties have complained that the data has been pulled from a state-run citizen database and there have been attempts to delete voter names, TDP told The Quint that all charges are false and “politically motivated”
Seva Mitra App: India’s ‘Cambridge Analytica’?
According to the description on Google PlayStore, “Seva Mitra is an official Telugu Desam Party Application which is designed for registered Cadre only.” This application provides realtime updates to the party cadre and also connects TDP workers to their leaders as well.
The app classifies voters on the constituency and booth levels. Party volunteers are expected to verify voters at the booth level and provide voter details such as:
- Are they living in the constituency?
- What is their caste?
- What is their political preference? Who are they likely to vote for?
- How much they rate the party of their choice on a scale of 1 - 100
- Family information
The app has been designed by a Hyderbabad-based private company called IT Grids. On its website, the company, which is headed by Ashok Dukavaram, lists the Government of Andhra Pradesh as one of its clients.
Apart from the details sought from volunteers about voters in their area, the app also contains:
- Colour photographs of voters
- Telephone numbers
- Household information
- Number of government welfare schemes availed
- Amount received in state subsidies
“This data is being used to identify voting patterns to game elections. But at the scale this is happening is no short of what happened with Cambridge Analytica. The Election Commission has been very silent on acting against data in elections,” said Srinivas Kodali, a Hyderabad-based security researcher.
The question is: where did the app and the TDP get this granular data from?
‘TDP Has Access to Aadhaar-Linked State Database’
YSR-Congress’ Vijaysai Reddy, who filed a complaint with the Hyderbad Police, has alleged that TDP had “illegal access to digital data of citizens.”
“The TDP has access to the Smart Pulse Survey conducted in 2016, which was linked to Andhra’s State Resident Data Hub. This database has Aadhaar numbers, caste, sub-caste, beneficiary details,” Reddy told The Quint.
“This app is a fraud on the democratic electoral process. The government of a state and political parties should be kept separate, but TDP has access to personal data of citizens for electoral gains,” Reddy added.
The Andhra Pradesh and Telangana governments’ controversial State Resident Data Hubs (SRDH) are well-documented examples of 360 degree profiling of residents. A Huffington Post report had investigated how citizens could be searched by religion or caste using Aadhaar numbers to connect disparate strands of data about them.
This geo-tagged profiling is achieved by combining data of individuals from multiple databases such as MGNREGA, PDS, income tax, property records, phone, bank loans, scholarships and pension. By doing so, SC/ST beneficiaries, religion and location data of individuals can be found and merged.
Kodali said that several researchers have pointed out multiple issues with Aadhaar in Andhra Pradesh.
“The UIDAI has never acknowledged or even attempted to investigate these issues even though the UIDAI Chairman J Satya Narayana is an adviser to the government of Andhra Pradesh,” Kodali told The Quint.
TDP Dismisses Allegations
When contacted, TDP MP Ram Mohan Naidu Kinjarapu dismissed the allegations as “a political move” and denied all charges of voter profiling. He said that the party has used only publicly available data.
“The Seva Mitra app is meant for party workers and all the information in it about voters is taken from what is already publicly available. Those complaining against it are doing it for political reasons”Ram Mohan Naidu Kinjarapu, TDP MP
Large Scale Voter Deletion Attempted in Andhra... Again
After several complaints were made to the Election Commission, Andhra Pradesh Chief Electoral Officer Om Prakash Dwivedi acknowledged in a press release that there were attempts “in thousands of numbers” to remove voters from electoral rolls.
“This is a mischief and an illegal act,” the statement read, adding that there were en masse submissions of Form-7 (for deletion of voters who have died or have shifted).
In an attempt to assure voters, Dwivedi said that no voter deletion can occur based only on Form-7 submissions. “Deletions will be permitted only after detailed inquiry and verifications.”
However, TDP has alleged that it was YSR-Congress that was indulging in attempts of voter deletions. “It is YSR party people who are doing this while pretending to be TDP workers. The Election Commission should take strict action against those doing this,” TDP MP Rammohan Naidu told The Quint.
This isn’t the first time voter deletion has been raised as an issue. Last year, The Quint had reported about 30 lakh voters being incorrectly deleted from the electoral rolls of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh based on an opaque software meant for identifying duplicate names.
These controversies simply indicate how political parties in power can have an undue advantage with access to personal data of citizens.