Monday, May 08, 2017

To Make Electronic Voting Machine (EVM) More Secure

“The man who reads nothing at all is better educated than the man who reads nothing but newspapers”

-Thomas Jefferson

After the recent elections to Legislative Assemblies of some of the states (mainly Uttar Pradesh) in India, some of the defeated political parties are blaming the Electronic Voting Machines (EVM). Their main concern is that the EVMs are not tamper-proof. They cite the claims of  some ‘experts’ in EVM technology that even brief access to the machines could allow dishonest election officials or other criminals to alter election results by planting suitable devices inside the machines. These devices, according to them, can be operated remotely (wirelessly) to change the data stored in the machine.

Let us think of the situation in some detail, especially with regard to the EVMs used in India. The Election Commission of India is a very trustworthy Institution capable of conducting elections to Legislative Assemblies, House of People (Parliament) etc. on a gigantic scale in a free and fair manner. That is why democracy succeeded in India all these decades post independence.

It is true that anything created by man can be tampered. The electronic voting machine as well as the old ballot paper and ballot box are no exceptions. There is no point in arguing that ballot paper and ballot box combination is better than EVMs in this respect. In fact the ballot paper method can suffer easier tampering even in the hands of a layman where as tampering of EVMs requires experts in the field.

Those who argue about tampering of the voting machines conveniently forget the fact that the voting machine is under the safe custody of the Election Commission of India. No unauthorised entity can access the voting machine when it is in the safe custody of the Election Commission of India. Then what is the chance of planting any external device in the EVM? 

In India EVMs are manufactured by two public sector corporations ECIL and Bharat Electronics. These machines do not contain devices that can be accessed remotely (wirelessly). Only those who suffer from delusions can argue that planting unauthorised devices (for remote access and manipulations of election results) in these machines during production is possible. Even if some of the employees in a factory try to resort to such malpractices (the chance for which is nil), this will come to light during the various stages of testing and quality control. So we can rest assured that the EVMs used by the Election Commission of India are tamper-proof due to the fact that there is no chance of unauthorised access to these machines.

Voter Verified Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) is an extra safeguard in EVMs. When a voter casts his vote, the vote is recorded as usual in the memory of the machine. In addition, a paper slip bearing the name and symbol of the candidate voted for is generated. For this a printer is attached to the balloting unit kept in the voting compartment. The paper slip remains visible to the voter for around five seconds through a transparent window (Fig.) so that the voter can satisfy himself that his vote has indeed gone to the candidate of his choice. In the case of a dispute, the paper slips can be counted to verify the result shown by the EVM.

Even the VVPAT may not satisfy some candidates ailing from delusions. Further, some may deliberately or by sheer mistake on his/her part, argue that what he/she saw through the window of VVPAT fitted machine was different from the candidate he voted for. To avoid such situations at the polling station, I think it will be a good idea to record a video of the voting process inside the voting compartment, keeping the candidates name and symbol along with the finger of the voter that casts the vote in the field of view of the camera. Since the face and the major parts of the voter are not in the field of view of the video camera, the identity of the voter will not be revealed. In the case of a dispute the video record can be used to ascertain the correctness of the result shown by the EVM. The Election Commission of India, ECIL and Bharat Electronics may consider whether this suggestion will improve the utility and reliability of EVMs.
I think printers are generally prone to issues. A small low cost video camera similar to security pen camera with the required memory can be easily fitted to the EVM to achieve the required function.
We have to use technology to ease our work in all situations. The EVM has been a great relief for the polling and counting officials. We should not even think of reverting back to the old ballot paper method. Instead we should think of improving the security, safety and reliability of the EVM. Since almost all voters in India have Aadhar cards with their biometric data for reliable identification of the voter, the EVM can be designed to identify the voter at the polling station. The Presiding Officers at the polling stations will be greatly relieved since the machine itself will identify the voters using the biometric data and will allow genuine voters only to vote.

Monday, November 07, 2016

Iris Scan Data Base to Trace Missing Children

"A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.”
- Sir Winston Churchill

More than five years back (to be exact, on 26-5-2011) I had published on this site a post ‘Iris Recognition Technology to Prevent Impersonation in Elections’. Today I would like high light the use of iris scan to track missing children.
            Missing children has been an important issue in all countries. In India around 180 children go missing on an average every day and the trend is on the increase. Government of India has already launched a website Khoya-Paya which you can access at 
            As time passes on, the tracing of missing children becomes more and more difficult when we use older identification methods like photographs and distinction marks on the body. If we have the iris scan pattern of the child in our data base the identification of the child becomes fool proof since each individual has a unique iris scan pattern which cannot change with time. It is in this context that iris scan of all children becomes important so that a national or international data base is maintained. Aadhar enrolment of all children is therefore a right step in this connection.
            Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University have already developed high-resolution cameras to scan a person's iris from 40 feet away. Tracking of missing children becomes easy if such cameras are placed at major check points like bus stations, railway stations and air ports. Iris pattern of the suspected child can be compared with that of the missing child (available in the data base) in a very short time to save the child.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Cell Phone Worries

"A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.”
- Sir Winston Churchill

Microwave radiation from cell phones (mobile phones) and cell phone towers has been a subject of concern for all ever since the use of cell phones became popular. In India the number of cell phone users has increased at an alarming rate even in rural areas in spite of relatively low per capita income.
In spite of the popularity of mobile phones, there has been growing concern on possible adverse health effects of microwave radiation from mobile towers and mobile handsets. Microwaves are electromagnetic waves similar to radio waves, with the important difference that their wave length is smaller. Infra red rays (heat rays), visible light, ultraviolet rays, x-rays and gamma rays are also electromagnetic waves with wavelength decreasing progressively and all these are members of the electromagnetic spectrum. Electromagnetic waves can be treated also as particles called quanta or photons since their energy is concentrated in the form of packets. An x-ray photon or a gamma ray photon can cause changes in the properties of the atoms of the materials on which they are incident and that is why you have to be very cautious with their use.
In the case of microwaves used for mobile phones, the energy of the photon is small so that there is no effect on the atomic properties. They cannot remove electrons from the atoms of the materials on which they are incident. In other words, microwaves cannot ionise. This is why they are safe to use in mobile phones and microwave ovens. However they can cause heating effect in our body. In microwave ovens a metallic shield is provided to prevent microwave radiations from reaching your body. But in mobile phones and mobile phone towers microwaves have to be allowed to travel from transmitter to receiver and you cannot shield them. Both the mobile phone and the tower act as transmitter as well as receiver.
Apart from the thermal effect (heating effect) of microwaves, there can be certain non-thermal effects which may be of concern in relation to our health. In India the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) set up an Inter-Ministerial Committee (IMC) on 24-08-2010 consisting of officers from DoT, Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), Department of Biotechnology and Ministry of Environment and Forest to examine the effects of Electro-magnetic Field Radiation (due to the microwaves) from base stations (mobile towers) and mobile phones. The IMC examined many international and national studies and reference papers related to microwaves used in this area and finalised a report which stated that most laboratory studies were unable to find a direct link between exposure to radio frequency radiation and health; and the scientific studies as yet have not been able to confirm a cause and effect relationship between radio frequency radiation and health.
The term ‘radiation’ itself causes fear and suspicion in the mind of the common man since it is usually associated with the treatment of cancer. The general public must understand that ‘radiation’ is a very common term which stands for all type of energy emissions including harmful gamma rays and harmless radio waves. The energy of the gamma ray photon or x-ray photon is much greater than the energy of a microwave photon. It is because of the high photon energy that gamma rays and x-rays can cause havoc in the materials on which they strike. The microwave photon is much safer in this respect and that is why microwaves are used commonly in various popular gadgets.
Heat radiations are technically called infra red radiations and their photon energy is greater than that of the microwaves. A farmer working in a paddy field for hours together is often exposed to infra red radiation but Mother Nature does not cause any serious harm to him. However, precautions to prevent sun burns are always advisable here also
Mobile phones have become part and parcel of our daily life and we are therefore exposed to microwave radiations emitted by the mobile phone towers and the hand sets. The current scenario is that we are not fully sure whether microwave radiations are harmful or harmless to our health. It is therefore advisable to get exposed to them to the minimum possible extent. This does not mean that we have to be unduly scared about them. For example, we need not relate the decrease in the bird population solely with the increase in the number of mobile phone towers. With the ever expanding concrete jungles and modern methods of waste disposal, bird population is destined to decrease even if mobile phone towers are absent. Thermal effects caused by microwaves can be easily sensed by our body but non thermal effects may not be easily felt. A reasonable amount of caution is therefore well advised.
There have been various instances of popular groups, health activists and resident organisations objecting to the erection of mobile phone towers. But this can affect the mobile phone users adversely in the form of call drops and greater exposure to microwave radiation! If the signal strength is smaller, your hand set (mobile phone) will have to produce microwaves of greater intensity. Since you hold your hand set very near your body you get more radiation from your hand set. Of course you get radiation from the mobile phone tower as well, but the intensity of this radiation is much smaller since the tower is away from you and it decreases with distance, obeying the well known inverse square law.
It is certainly better to have more mobile phone towers of smaller power spread over the service area than to have fewer towers of larger power to cater to the needs of the customers in the same service area. Don’t you know that in an auditorium you will be much more comfortable with a larger number of loud speakers of smaller power (spread judiciously) than a fewer number of loud speakers of larger power?
It is very unlikely that people will refrain from using the mobile phone in spite of the health issues whether real or imaginary. Fortunately in India the safety norms for the microwave radiation from mobile towers are 10 times more stringent than that recommended by W.H.O. On your part, as a mobile phone user, remember the following points:
1. Keep the mobile phone as far away as possible from your body.
2. Do not encourage children to use mobile phones.
3. Normally the mobile hand set can give you more microwave radiation than the mobile tower.
4. It will be beneficial to use the phone in the loud speaker mode since you can then keep the phone away from your ears.
5. As far as possible avoid keeping the mobile phone in your hip pocket.
6. Use the mobile phone only when the signal is strong (as indicated by the bar pattern displayed on the screen of the phone).
7. Never keep the hand set under or near the pillow when you sleep.
8. Don’t be scared of this useful gadget. All types of scares will affect your well being.