Indian government shuns Google as election partner over NSA fears

The Commission Election of India (CEI) has made the decision to shun Google as a partner when they roll out their online voter registration tool ahead of the upcoming general elections.

The online system would help voters to register, and would hold information on voting locations and card numbers.

In an almost laughably brisk press statement on Thursday, the director of the Commission Dhirendra Ojha said:

"Google made a presentation to the Commission for electoral look up services for citizens to help in the efforts of the Commission for better electoral information services. However, after due consideration, the Commission has decided not to pursue the proposal any further."

The Commission gave no official reason for turning the web giant down, but an unnamed official has told Reuters that security concerns were one of the main factors in the decision. If true, this would be just another example of how US technology firms have been the true losers in the NSA spying debacle revealed by whistleblower Edward Snowden.

The Lok Sabha, or House of the People, is the lower house of the Parliament of India, and undergoes a general election at least every five years. The current and 15th Lok Sabha's term will expire on 31 May 2014.

Google's web tool would have been designed to make it easier for citizens to check whether they had been correctly registered to vote.

However, a government and private sector-backed alliance of cyber security experts called the Indian Infosec Consortium, expressed grave doubts about Google's relationship with the American spy agencies.

"Google is committed to help make public information on the web easily accessible to internet users across the country," the company said in a statement.

It added: "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."

The decision comes amid a simmering diplomatic crisis between India and the US, after an Indian envoy, Devyani Khobragade, was arrested and strip-searched in New York after allegations that she paid a domestic servant below the US minimum wage.

This isn't the first time Google has faced scrutiny in India, either. Back in 2012, the Indian government authorised an investigation into the alleged violation of foreign exchange laws by the search giant, and the company has also faced an anti-trust probe over alleged anti-competitive practices.

Last year, a project called Google Mapathon had to be withdrawn after the Survey of India raised security concerns.

The decision comes just as President Obama reaches "the final stages" of a review focusing on the practices of the NSA, which activists hope will result in widespread reform of the agency.

Image: Flickr (Ben Sutherland)