By Devidutta Tripathy and Sruthi Gottipati
NEW DELHI Jan 10 India's election regulator
dropped plans on Thursday to partner Google Inc on a project to
ease voter access to information, after a backlash against the
move from campaigners who claimed Google and the U.S. government
could use the data for spying.
Google, which works with governments in other countries
including Mexico and the Philippines on similar programmes, said
it has not talked with the government about any project that
would have involved data not already publicly available.
India, the world's largest democracy, will go to the polls
in a general election due by May. Google, the world's
No.1 search engine, had pitched a project to the Election
Commission to help create a simpler and faster tool for voters
to check whether they were registered correctly or not.
But the plan was opposed by the Indian Infosec Consortium, a
government and private sector-backed alliance of cyber security
experts. The group said in a statement last week it feared
Google would collaborate with "American agencies" for espionage
Google would have shared the software tools required with
India and offered the help of its engineers in a non-commercial
agreement, Gaurav Bhaskar, a spokesman for Google's Indian unit,
said. But the election panel was free to decide on hiring
another company's services for hosting the data, he said.
The Election Commission did not give a reason for dropping
the plan. But an official, who did not want to be named, told
Reuters that Google's proposal was not a major improvement on
its existing website, and that Google's involvement had drawn
criticism in India.
U.S. electronic surveillance practices have been in the
spotlight after damaging disclosures from former spy contractor
Edward Snowden. India-U.S. relations have also been damaged by a
spat over the arrest and strip search of an Indian diplomat in
New York last month.
"Google is committed to help make public information on the
web easily accessible to internet users across the country,"
Google said in a statement.
"It is unfortunate that our discussion with the Election
Commission of India to change the way users access their
electoral information, that is publicly available, through an
online voter look up tool, were not fruitful," it added.
A member of the ruling Congress Party said the plan was a
"sensitive issue" and that political parties had not been
consulted. A spokeswoman for the main opposition Bharatiya
Janata Party said that the Election Commission needed to protect
"After due consideration, the Commission has decided not to
pursue the proposal any further," the regulator said in a brief
statement on its website on Thursday.
This is not the first time Google has faced political heat
in India. The country's federal mapping agency had last year
filed a police complaint that Google had violated rules by
asking users to add information about their local area for its
online map services.
In 2011, city police in Bangalore ordered Google to suspend
a Street View service over security concerns, three weeks after
the company started collecting images from the city.