National Voter’s Day has been celebrated on January 25th every year since 2011 to spread awareness among voters and promote informed participation of voters in the electoral process. National Voter’s Day marks the foundation day of the Election Commission of India (January 25th, 1950).
India has done a commendable job in digitising identity management and enabling identity management with technology in the last few years. Moving from the age of Ration Cards and Passbooks to efficient digitally enabled Passports, technology-enabled the Aadhaar Card system and digitising the Voter Identity system.
When India is transitioning rapidly to a digital era, it is crucial to assess how secure and digital our Voter ID cards (also known as Electors Photo Identity Card (EPIC)) are? In a country with a vast population, Voter identity management and document security are unquestionably critical and highly cumbersome. With an added challenge of reaching with hundred percent accuracy to semi-urban and rural areas.
If efficiently done, voter identity management will empower citizens and enhance security enabling democratic values and democracy. Several hurdles need to be overcome before we can reach a satisfactory level of voter identity governance. The first and foremost is the absence of robust data protection standards, which increases the scope for fraud and is a considerable hindrance in integrating various identity systems such as the proposed linking of Voter Id cards with Aadhaar for Data Governance Network. The integration would undoubtedly improve accessibility, allowing migrant workers to participate in voting irrespective of their location. And aid in reducing fraud as the biometric Aadhaar data cannot be replicated. But the challenges of bringing in this reform are a) the absence of a law protecting personal data, b) dangers of a leak, and Lack of a precise integration mechanism.
How secure are our Voter Id Cards in their current avatar?
Last year, the Govt had launched an electronic version of the voter identity card, termed e-EPIC ((Electronic Electoral Photo Identity Card). The e-elector photo identity card is the non-editable digital version of the elector photo identity card, and it can be saved in facilities such as a digital locker and can be printed in PDF format, in addition to physical IDs being issued for fresh registration. While digitisation is a welcome move, there are various concerns related to the physical security of the existing and upcoming voter ID cards.
Voter ID Cards are a vital document for several reasons. The card is accepted as a proof of identity, it is an acknowledgement of the card holder’s status as a registered voter, used for identification purposes with no fixed address, suitable for electoral purposes in low literacy areas, and the card is created to prevent fraudulent voting during elections to safeguard the sanctity of democracy.
So, Voter Id Cards is such an essential document for citizen identity management, needs to be made more secure against the growing threat of fake documents and digital frauds.
Last month in December 2021, Delhi Police arrested two people for allegedly running a fake website named voteridcard.ebharatseva.in. They took money from people to make and change voter ID cards and ran away with the funds on this website. In another incident, seven people were arrested in Aug 2021, hacking the election commission website.
Digitisation alone cannot guarantee the integrity of a document. Criminals are increasingly using advanced technology to produce fake documents. Perfect document security is an unattainable goal. Security measures must be regarded as reducing the risks of forgery or unauthorised alteration or misuse, not eliminating those risks. A comprehensive approach towards making Voter ID Cards less vulnerable is required.
The ideal solution must include a mix of physical and digital features providing authentication and increased digital security to reduce system vulnerability. The Indian authentication industry can deliver world-class technology-enabled solutions that are suited to the unique requirements of protecting Voter ID Cards. The current level of technology can provide high-security plastic cards with several advanced security features such as holograms, secure designing, security inks, machine-readable elements, non-cloneable QR Codes, etc. Perhaps there is also a need to limit the issuers of such a critical document and identify proven secure identification solution providers having the requisite security infrastructure to print and despatch the EPIC cards. This will reduce the possibility of the system vulnerability and ensure that all the EPIC cards have the same look and feel, no matter in which part of the country is the voter from.
The authentication and security solutions must be made more effective by widespread awareness, which educates voters and the Election Commission officials about the security features and the advantages of having a secure voter ID Card and how it safeguards their rights as citizens and voters.
Manoj Kochar is the Vice President at Authentication Solution Providers’ Association (ASPA). Views expressed in the article are personal and not of the organisation.