Voters' data black market booms in NCR
Aastha Saxena (40), a homemaker in South Delhi's New Friends Colony, was recently perplexed after she got a phone call. The caller knew her personal details, wanted to know her political preferences, also trying to hard sell a particular political party.
"It wasn't a random spam call. They knew details they aren't supposed to know. It's targeting specific sections of voters in an organised way," she said. Vipin Kumar (19) of South Delhi's Sarita Vihar will vote for the first time. He has a similar tale to tell.
"My friends had been telling me about these calls. I also received one. It's happening with practically everyone," he said. There are thousands of people who are getting such calls and text messages this election season.
Some dubious IT firms are gathering personal voter information such as castes, phone numbers and e-mail addresses from hackers and offering it to agents of political parties at a price, a Mail Today investigation has revealed. A voter's details cost from 50 paise to Rs 2.50. However, data is being sold in bulk, said sources, adding that 50-odd companies are involved in deals.
A Mail Today reporter posed as potential client belonging to a party and spoke with a few such agencies and asked for data. The companies offered constituency-wise voter data. The cost ranged between Rs 25,000 and Rs 70,000, depending on the demand and the state. These companies charge in lakhs for providing segregated data.
"Name the state and we will provide complete data of voters," an I-T company said, adding that they can also provide operational services. "On your party's behalf, we can send bulk messages that include voice messages," an IT firm manager said.
Some of the companies even started sending messages to the MT reporter. They read: "Election Special: We are providing three types of bulk text messages, three types of voice calls and three types of bulk WhatsApp messages." These companies are providing voter feedback as well so that it can be used in further messages.
With two phases of the Lok Sabha polls over and five more to go, the illegal business is only booming. Delhi votes on May 12 in the sixth round. Cyber experts said that the data that is being sold by these companies is private and is not available at any public platform, including electoral rolls.
"These companies have a strong nexus within the grey market from where they have purchased voter data such as addresses, phone numbers, age and gender. Further, they are selling this data to clients," cyber expert Gautam Kumawat said. Hackers started stealing data almost two years ago, he added.
Kislay Chaudhary, chairman of Indian Cyber Army, an association of ethical hackers, said: "Voter ID details can be illegally accessed and sold for 50 paise to Rs 2.50. By using certain commands on computers, all confidential data such as mobile numbers and email IDs can also be easily accessed by hackers."
Private details have not only been leaked from government websites but also from private bodies such as banks, telecom operators, insurance providers and financial organisations.
"Mining is done at all platforms where your ID card is submitted. Be it the telecom sector, banks or any other organisation. Companies collect your ID card for official use and then agents access data," said Mohit, a cyber expert.
Delhi Police say that selling anyone's personal data is illegal. "If any complainant comes to us, we register a case under different sections of penal, IT and privacy laws," said police spokesperson Madhur Verma.
In March, Hyderabad-based IT Grids (India) Pvt Ltd, which provides IT services to Andhra Pradesh's ruling TDP, faced allegations of having stolen data of 37 million voters from the state government database through an app. According to a complaint filed in this case, the data was being misused for voter profiling and deleting names of non-TDP voters.