Source: 
Newsclick
https://www.newsclick.in/11-civil-society-groups-write-ec-flag-concerns-over-role-technology-poll-campaign
Author: 
Newsclick Report
Date: 
10.04.2024
City: 
New Delhi

The letter calls for urgent steps by EC to hold “uphold the integrity” of the electoral process and hold political parties, candidates and digital platforms accountable to voters.

 Eleven civil society organisations have written to the Election Commission, urging it to “uphold the integrity” of the electoral process and hold political parties, candidates and digital platforms accountable to crores of voters in India. The letter comes amid a high-pitched general election campaign in the backdrop of rising instances of fake news, deepfakes and surrogate advertising using technology to affect outcomes.

The letter, written on April 9, has been signed by the Association of Democratic Reforms, Internet Freedom Foundation, Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan, Article 21 Trust, Common Cause, National Alliance of People’s Movement, among others.

The civil society groups highlight four major concerns in the letter to the EC related to the use or misuse of technology and urges it to take appropriate measures to ensure that voter perception is not influenced by misinformation.

The concerns flagged by the 11 civil society groups are the need for standards on the expenditure on surrogate advertising and targeted online campaigns; a check on the use of generative AI (artificial intelligence) technology by political actors; the need for a transparent and participatory process spearheaded by a third-party, independent organisation(s) to monitor Model Code of Conduct violations by political candidates and digital platforms; and a  “careful reevaluation” of the implementation of surveillance technologies in the electoral process.

Read the full release with a hyperlink of the letter below:

 

Civil Society Organisations Express Urgent Concerns Over the Integrity of the 2024 General Elections to Lok Sabha

 

New Delhi, April 08, 2024: Earlier today, 11 civil society organisations wrote to the Election Commission of India (“ECI”) in a collaborative effort, highlighting the role of technology in affecting electoral processes and outcomes. The letter includes an urgent appeal to the ECI to uphold the integrity of the upcoming elections and hold political parties, candidates, and digital platforms accountable to the voters. 

The signatories to the letter are Article 21 TrustAssociation for Democratic ReformsCampaign Against Hate SpeechCommon CauseInternet Freedom FoundationLibTech IndiaMaadhyamMazdoor Kisan Shakti SangathanNational Alliance of People's MovementsRajasthan Asangathit Mazdoor Union, and Software Freedom Law Center, India

Following are the concerns and appeals outlined in the joint letter:

  1. Online campaigning and surrogate advertisements: Expenditure on surrogate advertising and targeted online campaigns by political actors to influence voter perception and beliefs are not under adequate scrutiny. The ECI must increase the accountability of political parties and digital platforms by adopting internationally acceptable, rights-respecting standards for regulating political expenditure on online ads and targeted campaigning. 
  2. Use of emerging technologies such as deepfakes: The use of generative AI technology (particularly deepfakes) by political actors with the intent to influence voter perception and impact electoral outcomes raises urgent concerns. The ECI must introduce measures to increase the accountability of political actors who deploy generative AI with the intent of influencing voter perceptions and political narratives.
  3. Inadequacies of the Voluntary  Code of Conduct: The Voluntary Code of Conduct is non-binding, has no legal force, and was drafted without any transparency and input from civil society. Lower standards are applied to digital platforms in India as compared to other jurisdictions, there is no monitoring of platforms’ compliance, and there is a lack of redressal for voters in case of non-compliance. The ECI should initiate a transparent and participatory process spearheaded by a third-party, independent organisation(s) to arrive at a Model Code of Conduct (“MCC”) to be followed by political candidates and digital platforms - with clear enforcement guidelines and reporting mechanisms.
  4. Voter surveillance: The use of facial recognition and video surveillance technology at polling booths can deter the right to vote without fear or coercion, may violate the right to privacy, and is antithetical to a free and fair election. The ECI should initiate a careful reevaluation of the implementation of surveillance technologies in electoral processes and assess it against strict standards of legality, necessity and proportionality.
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