Happy 4th

friends, policy, education

While I'll be finishing the editing of my thesis, please have a fun, safe and memorably 4th of July (or belated 1st of July if you're from up North).

Taking a suggestion from John Gideon, I'll take a break and read a bit about our Declaration of Independence and read the text itself.

Wallach on Vendor spin

elections, vendors, blogging, problems, friends, research

"At this point, the scientific evidence is in, it?s overwhelming, and it?s indisputable. The current generation of DRE voting systems have a wide variety of dangerous security flaws. There?s simply no justification for the vendors to be making excuses or otherwise downplaying the clear scientific consensus on the quality of their products." -- Dan Wallach (Rice/ACCURATE) at Freedom to Tinker, "Vendor misinformation in the e-voting world"

Improving California's Manual Tally at EVT'08

elections, certification/testing, reform, news, friends, research, policy, usability, legal

I've finished the camera-ready version of the last chapter of my thesis (essentially) to appear at the USENIX/ACCURATE Electronic Voting Technology Workshop (EVT'08). It's entitled, Improving the Security, Transparency and Efficiency of California's 1% Manual Tally Procedures and is now available on my site in PDF.

EVT'08 is shaping up to be an amazing event; check the program out. The other papers should appear linked from the schedule in coming weeks.

Jon Krosnick (Stanford) will deliver the keynote entitled, "Designing Ballots to Prevent Bias: How the Order of Candidate Names Determined Who Was Elected President". Krosnick is the leading researcher in terms of survey instrument questionnaire design and has some very interesting insight into ballot positioning.

We've added two panels to the agenda that will be dynamite. I'm chairing a panel entitled "How Can Researchers and Election Officials Better Work Together?" including Jeremy Epstein, Elaine Ginnold, Greg Luke, David Wagner and Steve Weir. The godfather of California e-voting, David Jefferson, will chair a second panel on day 2 entitled, "Technical Monitoring and Other Post-TTBR Interim Strategies" and includes panelists Matt Bishop, Debra Bowen, Candice Hoke and Tom Stanionis.

How to recognize telecom immunity

privacy, San Francisco, friends, policy, legal

I?m here this morning to warn that, whatever gloss might be put on it, the so-called ?compromise? on immunity for phone companies that broke the law is anything but a compromise, and that Congress appears poised to needlessly toss the rule of law out the window and deprive these millions of ordinary Americans of their day in court. My one simple message is that no matter how they spin it, this is still immunity, period.

Indeed, there?s an easy litmus test that everyone can use when evaluating this proposal or any other: does it allow the court to rule on the legality of the surveillance? That is, does it allow the plaintiffs to obtain a public decision on whether the companies broke the law, and if they did, to get an injunction to stop them from breaking the law again? If the answer is ?no?, then it?s still immunity, plain and simple.

The EFF's Kevin Bankston in a prepared statement. (emphasis mine)

(Press Release: EFF Speaks Out Against Telecom Immunity Deal)

Voting Machine Gag Orders and Trade Secrets

elections, news, secrecy, privacy, litigation, friends, policy, legal

ACLU of New Jersey has submitted an amicus brief (1.5MB PDF) in the Gusciora case, being litigated by Penny Venetis and her team at Rutgers' Constitutional Law Clinic. The brief challenges a gag order issued by the Judge based on the implications of the Judge's order with respect to 1) the first amendment rights of the experts in the case and the public; and 2) the lack of showing of good cause in restricting dissemination of results from the experts' testing.

I haven't seen the full protective order, but the two paragraphs at issue here are troubling. I can't imagine any expert that could agree to those terms that also hopes to be available for such work during the next few years (while the case makes its way through the courts). For academics that work in this field, the order is even worse in the sense that one couldn't discuss any aspect of their findings and could even be chilled in discussing findings from other studies.

One thing that gets me is the continual use (in all areas of voting technology) of the terms "proprietary information" and "confidential information". Let's be clear here: the only types of information that could be compromised by disclosure are trade secrets and confidential personal information. Any other term is just not acceptable: the other forms of intellectual property---copyright, trademark and patent rights---would not be implicated by disclosure of the information; that is, the vendor would still be able to enforce those rights. And any confidential information that is not personal information is a trade secret.

Vendors in voting systems have been getting a "pass" on the issue of trade secrecy for too long. In other contexts, trade secrets are things that one can point to and identify (e.g., the recipe for Coca-Cola). Vendors of voting technology have been able to point vaguely at their hardware, software and documentation and say, "There's trade secrets there." Undoubtedly there are. However, we need a mechanism by which vendors can positively identify trade secrets... or reviewers should be able to ask, "Is there a trade secret in this sentence from your documentation?" Narrowing what is a possible trade secret would allow reviewers (or anyone) to produce public and private reports more easily where the private reports contained trade secrets.

Usually, we "know it when we see it" with trade secrets but in the realm of voting technology, we currently do not. That's going to need to change.

NB: Obviously, there is a third type of information that could be problematic if disclosed: actionable security exploits. That is, details about security vulnerabilities sufficient to allow compromise of a voting system in a manner such that elections are placed in danger of exploit.

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