Hari is out of jail!

Earlier this year, I worked on a scientific study showing that the Electronic Voting Machines used in India weren’t secure. My co-author Hari Prasad was arrested a week ago, on charges of having had possession of a real voting machine and refusing to say where it came from.

At a little past noon, I received an e-mail saying Hari has been granted bail and is no longer in jail. Alex Halderman and I just spoke to Hari as he was preparing to fly home from Mumbai to Hyderabad. He is tired after a week in jail, he needs some rest, but he is very happy to be free and his spirit is very much unbroken. The judge that released him apparently did his homework and has said that the government has no case, and that Hari deserves a reward, not jail.

This all follows rather bizarre developments yesterday during which newspapers, among which the Times of India, reported that the government was apparently looking into our research work as some kind of “plot to destabilize the country”.

NEW DELHI: Is the arrested activist, who showed that an Electronic Voting Machine (EVM) can be tampered with, a mere tool in the hands of some corporate rivals who want to make a clone of the equipment which has a huge demand in countries across Africa and South America?

Or, is he, who got technical help from three foreigners, a part of some larger conspiracy to discredit India’s election process?
With these sneaking suspicions in mind, the intelligence agencies — both IB and R&AW — have set into motion their network to check the backgrounds of Hari Prasad, who was arrested in Hyderabad in the EVM theft case last Saturday, and his foreign contacts.
Suspecting that the instrument might have been smuggled out possibly to an European country, a top official on Thursday said there could be a larger “conspiracy angle” to discredit the country’s election process and this was being probed “thoroughly” after Prasad’s arrest.
“There seems to be a bigger picture than what it looked like initially. We are conducting a through probe to find out who was actually behind it, why it has been done and whether there is a conspiracy to discredit India’s election process,” the official said.
Sources said the investigators have found that two Americans and one Dutch national had helped Prasad, technical coordinator of VeTA ( Citizens for Verifiability, Transparency and Accountability in Elections), to show how the machine can be tampered with.
The Union home ministry is constantly monitoring the development and giving regular directions to the investigators and intelligence agencies asking for all the details.

Based on my experiences in the Netherlands, I really did not expect for us to be named honorary citizens of India, at least not right away. But the above is really rather insane. You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to see that this story is way, way, way too easy to discredit for anyone with brief access to Google. At this point I speculate that this claim by the government has caused more people, many of whom initially inclined to believe the government, to investigate the matter. After reading up, most of these people probably realized that the government’s story is complete and utter bullshit.

We’ll have to see what public opinion in India does over the next months, but I have hopes that this dramatic overreach by the government will be part of the cause the current EVMs to be ditched. And even more than that I am so happy that Hari is on his way to his wife and kids.

If you are following this, you probably also want to read Freedom to Tinker, if you weren’t yet.

8 thoughts on “Hari is out of jail!”

  1. Ik wil je toch ten sterkste aanraden voorlopig niet naar India of een om haar gunsten dingend land te reizen.

  2. The problem however, is that in India a large part of the population doesn’t have (easy) access to Google (or the internet in general). Thus this story might, by large parts of the population, be taken for truth (if not a questionable one).

  3. Congrats! Particularly also on this:

    The judge that released him apparently did his homework and has said that the government has no case, and that Hari deserves a reward, not jail.

    I don’t quite understand christina’s comment here; India is a one billion+ population country, and not a day goes by that there isn’t some major political issue playing up in the eyes (or the experience) of significant parts of its inhabitants! Yet life will usually carry on normal for foreign visitors, tourists, backpackers and the like. There is no need to discourage people from visiting Mother India these days, just applying common sense as one always should, will do.

    As for access to internet (Giel), I’d worry more about the still relatively high percentage of illiteracy. Needless to say that goes for the countryside much more than for the metropoles. In India, very much like Nepal, rumours are easily fabricated and then travel fast.

    As for the issues with the voting machines and Rop’s reference to yesterday’s TOI and other papers, the Volkskrant now quotes a rather interesting (and personally I also think humorous) newsitem in today’s Hindustan Times.

    Rent-a-crowd facility available
    Hindustan Times, 00:42 IST(29/8/2010)

    As the size of the crowds in political rallies determines the electoral solvency of ticket aspirants in election-bound Bihar, professional crowd contractors in Vaishali in north Bihar — just across the Ganga from Patna — are making a killing.
    “The demand is so strong that we are unable to meet it. I wish elections were held more frequently,” said Shailendra, a ‘sales executive’.

    At least in (rural) parts of India, politicians have their very own ways of campaigning, it seems…. 🙂

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