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Online Publication Of Voters’ Register

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NEWS COMMENTARY ON PUBLISHING VOTERS REGISTER ON GOOGLE DRIVE BY THE ELECTORAL COMMISSION.

The Electoral Commission (EC) this week posted the nation’s voter register of over 17 million names on Google Drive. The Commission, however, disabled the link to the published register within days after posting it. The decision to reverse their action chiefly emanated from public outcry against the action, which was deemed as a grave breach of privacy and a blatant disregard for people’s rights. Google Drive is a file storage and synchronization service developed by the internet giant Google. It was launched in April 2014 to provide file and image storage services for internet users.

The facility is a cloud-based storage solution that allows one to save files online and access them anywhere from any smartphone, tablet, or computer. It also allows users to store files on their servers, synchronize and share them across devices. As of March 2017, Google Drive had 800 million active users, and as of September 2015, it had over one million organizational paying users. As of May 2017, there were over two trillion files stored on the service. The decision by the EC to use Google Drive as the medium of publishing such an important national document appears very unsafe. Still, perhaps the Commission might have been motivated by the many multifaceted benefits of the facility. For instance, each file or folder in Google Drive has its own sharing link and the ability to customize who has access to it. Users of the facility may also be able to open and use the files without any trouble. Whatever the motivation was, generally, it was not a safe place to publish a document like the voters’ register.

After all, how many Ghanaian voters will have the means to access the register on Google Drive. It is believed the Commission did not just meet the legal requirement of publishing the register but also focused on the importance of the exercise to the public. Details of registered voters, such as age, among others, are also questionable as they may be easily stolen by unscrupulous persons for other nefarious activities. Some members of the public have also expressed concern over the potential insecurity the publication of the voters’ details could entail.

Following the launch of the service, Google Drive’s privacy policy was heavily criticized by some members of the media. Google has one set of Terms of Service and Privacy Policy agreements that cover all of its services, meaning the language in the agreements grants the company broad rights to reproduce, use, and create derivative works from content stored on Google Drive.

Hackers hack or remove one’s important data. One of the disadvantages of the details of registered voters as published on Google Drive will be that hackers hack or remove people’s essential data and sell it for other purposes. It is also possible that the EC did not consider the possibility of hackers installing viruses into their server and the files for that matter. Identity theft these days have seen many activities of IT hackers around the globe.

This occurs when an unauthorized party uses people’s identifying information, such as the name, address, Social Security Number (SSN), credit card, or bank account information, to assume one’s identity to commit fraud or other criminal acts.

Brushing aside all these, the best under the circumstances and in the face of the law, is for the Commission to have issued a publication alert or warning to all voters who have their names on the register and indeed the entire citizenry. This was not done, and victims of the publication were taken unaware. The Commission justified its decision to publish the voters register on google drive saying it is enjoined by law to make public details of voters on the register before every election.

The steps by the Data Protection Agency to discuss with the Commission on how to ensure transparency and fairness in the handling of the personal data of registered voters is laudable. This is because the balance in complying with the laws by the EC and the urgent need to ensure the safety as well as the security of the personal data must be carefully worked out to establish the extent of voter information the EC could publish and even where to publish.

BY DR. NANA SIFA TWUM, MEDIA AND COMMUNICATIONS CONSULTANT

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