Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan said the use of a software developed by the CPM-controlled Uralungal Labour Contract Cooperative Society (ULCCS) for passport verification by the police would not lead to any security breach or data theft.
“The concept is to glean information from the existing database using Application Programming Interface. The attempt is to transform the entire passport verification process into a technology-based system. Now, most of this work is handled by private parties,” the chief minister said in response to an adjournment motion moved by the UDF in the Assembly on Wednesday.
Congress MLA K Sabarinadhan invoked Cambridge Analytica, which had tapped into the ocean of personal information in Facebook, and Pegasus, which had hacked into WhatsApp, to demonstrate the threat posed by a private player like ULCCS. “What Ambani is to the BJP, the ULCCS is to the CPM,” Sabarinadhan said.
“None of the information in the database is required by the software developer. We don't even have to provide details of what is in the database,” he added.
Nonetheless, the chief minister said safety measures would be put in place to check any misuse of the database. “An essential condition for this is a Cyber Security Auditing system. The software will be deployed or will be made available to the government data centre only after such a system is in place,” he said. “At this moment, there is no need for any panic,” he added.
It is true there is a recommendation to grant ULCCS access to the production environment of Criminal Tracking Networks and Systems (CCTNS). “But till now it has not been given,” the chief minister said. CCTNS is now maintained by Tata Consultancy Services, and they have still not granted the Kerala Police access.
“We intend to give ULCCS the authority to check only whether police cases had been registered against a person who had applied for passport verification,” the chief minister said. Furthermore, the software will be given wider application only if it passes a trial. At the moment, the ULCCS has been asked to handle 1,000 applications in the Kochi city and Ernakulam rural police limits and generate reports on a trial basis.
As it stands, the ULCCS has been given the opportunity to prove the efficacy of their software based on blockchain technology on a 'proof of concept' (PoC) basis. PoC is nothing but the successful demonstration of the design.
“We have not yet reached the purchase stage,” the chief minister said. Pinarayi said even if the ULCCS software were to be adopted for wider use, it did not mean the cooperative society would have access to police data. “Only the police will be given the authority to access the CCTNS. The ULCCS will hand over the software, which will be handled exclusively by the system administrator of the Kerala Police,” he said.
Now, passport-related information is handled by the private company Tata Consultancy Services. “Database related to the grant of passports is already with this private company. The centre has entered into a non-disclosure agreement with TCS to prevent data leak. The same model will be applied in this case too,” the chief minister said.