ISLAMABAD: The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) has termed the media’s use of age-wise information of electoral rolls a potential threat to voters’ data security.
Citing an ambiguous clause in the Elections Act of 2017, the ECP had earlier denied free access to credentials of candidates.
In a letter sent to NADRA, ECP mentioned some news reports which mentioned information on age and gender in electoral rolls, the commission said that it suspected that the data could have been leaked by NADRA.
Admonishing the authority, ECP stated: “The competent authority has observed with great concern that there exists a potential threat to the security of data relating to computerized electoral rolls system.”
ECP’s letter was addressed to the NADRA chief.
NADRA officials denied releasing any data to media persons or members of political parties.
Data segregated according to ages and genders was easily available to the general public in the past.
According to the new Election Law, there is a clause that allows every contestant to get a copy of electoral rolls of the constituency with pictures of all voters.
Earlier, the ECP had decided not to put nomination papers of contesting candidates on its website, saying new election laws barred it from doing so.
Forming an informed opinion is increasingly becoming a no-go area for voters, either through legislation by parliament or by the ECP.
Giving free access to information about nomination papers would have provided voters meaningful insights about a candidate’s credentials, including their financial matters.
In the general election of 2013, the ECP had published nomination forms of all contesting candidates on its website for public scrutiny.
Some politicians had expressed reservations on the move at that time. The step was considered a move forward towards greater transparency.
When the Election Act, 2017, was passed in October last year, parliament inserted a clause in the law, ostensibly to stop the practice.
ECP officials maintained that after the adoption of the new law, they were unable to publish this information on their website.
Clause 7 of Section 60 of the Act reads: “The Returning Officer shall (a) make the nomination papers along with annexures open to inspection by the public; and (b) issue certified copies of these documents in such manner and on payment of such fee as may be prescribed”.
According to the new law, anyone wanting access to information about nomination forms and attached annexures would have to submit written application to the returning officer and pay a prescribed fee.
Legal experts insisted that ECP was misinterpreting this clause.
According to them, the new procedure did require officially certified copies of nomination papers to be used in courts or for official purposes, but it did not bar the ECP from making this information public.
ECP’s letter insisted that media’s access to data, supported apprehensions that other data might have also been shared.
“It may also be noted that said report was desired by this Commission, but on contrary, the report was shared with non-recipients before it reached this Commission. It also supports apprehensions that other data relating to voters might also have been shared with unauthorised (parties)”.
Urging NADRA chief to take urgent security measures, the ECP stated that it was necessary for maintaining the credibility of both organizations.
“It requires urgent measures … before it impacts the credibility of NADRA and ECP at large as custodian of electoral rolls.”