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        Volume 11 |Issue 11| March 16, 2012 |


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Rule of the Tools


It is now over ten years that I use a laptop (short for a computer that sits on the lap), but only yesterday I realised how difficult it is to actually use it from my lap. My leg above my knees would have to be at least a metre long to do justice to the name. No wonder very rarely have I seen a Bangalee leave a table top in favour of the lap to use what has today become life's vital element for many.

Technology is like that. It dominates your senses to the extent that you may very often lose the meaning and bearing of an electro-mechanically managed situation.

For instance, you may find a hapless driver of this generation at a loss if the battery of the car keys is down. How will the door be opened? We are almost no more attuned to opening a car door manually.

These days you may not be blamed if you look for a remote controller to switch on/off the ceiling fan, or if you swipe across your television screen to change the channel; or across your spouse to remove him/her from your presence.

Then there was this office assistant who made five photocopies of a blank A4 sheet because she needed that many blank pages. And a salesperson understands six but not half a dozen.

The age of contraptions is here. Even in economically one of the poorest countries of the world and backward by miles in technology, a digitised environment is gradually but surely taking over.

The mobile telephone number is today one's identity, no more a status symbol. From the condemnable monopoly of a single operator of the early 90s, today there are several thriving companies in the open market, making telephone calls (and thereby communication, a symbol of democracy) easy and cheap. A form to be filled up will require a mobile number as much as the name of the parents of the applicant.

Machine readable passport, train tickets through sms (although I have not tried it), bills payment via mobile, printed out air tickets, purchasing merchandises, ATM, composing posters, printing banners, visa application … they are all done by digital technology.

Almost any government or non-government organisation has a website. There is a huge quantity of information (our right to it protected by law) that can be obtained via the Internet. Religion, law, finance, history, politics, sport… you name it.

You can pick up anything from an apartment to a holiday, from a dress to herbal medicine, from a bride/groom to a used car on the www. Likewise, you may also pay for a product/service from the comfort of your laptop on your desktop.

So, what is wrong with EVM, the machine used in some recent elections? BNP has been opposing the move, although it claimed victory when (Mayor) Mohiuddin lost in Chittagong and it celebrated the diminishing popularity of the government party when Shamim Osman was humbled by Ivy (both of Awami League), saying that there is scope for tampering.

The system being used in India has also come under criticism for possible attacks: 'one attack involves replacing a small part of the machine with a lookalike component that can be silently instructed to steal a percentage of the votes in favour of a chosen candidate. These instructions can be sent wirelessly from a mobile phone. Another attack uses a pocket-sized device to change the votes stored in the EVM between the election and the public counting session, which in India can be weeks later'.

According to analysts, 'these attacks are neither complicated nor difficult to perform, but they would be hard to detect or defend against'. The solution to the problem lies, it would appear, in counting votes using paper ballots that voters can see, a matter addressed by the Prime Minister at BUET a few days ago. This is known as Voter Verified Paper Trail (VVPAT), a method used by South American countries. There is obviously worldwide suspicion of vote fraud.

This VVPAT is 'a system wherein a printer attached with the voting machine produces a paper printout of every vote cast, just as an ATM produces a slip after every transaction. The voter verifies it for its accuracy and then it is stored in a ballot box as a separate record of votes, independent of the electronic record stored in the EVM'. So you have the convenience of casting vote electronically but protected against possible fraud. Ta daaaa…

The somewhat comforting (or discomforting) news is that in a mock poll held in India's Thiruvananthapuram in July 2011, 'except for some minor differences noticed in some booths, the votes registered in the EVMs and those printed in the printers tallied'.

The present to some extent and the future largely shall be in the hands of the machine, only it has no hands. But we must make human intervention everywhere necessary. After all we seek to elect only humans to govern us.

For democracy to thrive, losers must trust election results, not just winners.



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