Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Hacking Democracy - Coming to a Booth Near You?

This story is an old hat by now, going back to the Bush years, but there are always people who are not aware of a particular issue yet. The HBO documentary 'Hacking Democracy' details the hacking of proprietary Diebold electronic voting machines and uncovered clear evidence that the software and memory cards had been tempered with or, if you put a very positive face on, were just extremely unreliable. Apparently computers count 80% of votes in the US. This is how governments are elected. Glad in Europe we´re still voting old style, but for how long?

Would this have been possible with free and oen source sotware? Probably not, transparency always helps. However, in this case it is stated that "the software that counted the votes is a trade secret and it is against federal and state law to look inside Diebold's voting machines". As people have rightly pointed out, what laws? Who is guarding against malicious code in the software, or are we just supposed to trust an unknown corporate entity to get it right? Even worse, but lucky for the film makers, a copy of the software was unintentionally left on a public ftp server, which would of cource allow anybody to modify it, and if they also had access to the voting machines? You get the idea.

Here are some links to the first (1/9) and the last (9/9) part on Youtube, you'll find links to the other ones there. Worth watching if you've never heard of this before, in particular if you think that technology and society and politics are somehow not interconnected. If you just want to see the final proof, skip ahead to part 9.





Personally, although I enjoy playing with computers, I'm actually of a generation that can remember a time without mobiles, PC's and scanners in supermarkets. I was near graduating when IT classes were introduced in which BASIC (not Microsoft's Visual Basic) and PASCAL were offered. In a way I think it was a better time, when people still had time for themselves/family/friends and a bit more peace, and it wasn't expected of you to be available 24/7. All part of quality of life.
 It also seems we were more productive with paper files. At work, or when ever you interact with your local dentist reception, council, travel agency, you name it, they are telling you their "system is down", "frozen" or whatever, point is they can't do the job, even if it's some simple looking up of information, and, please, call back. Aren't you just sick of it? Of course they are all using Windows. Only managers and statisticians love computerization at work because it makes collecting performance data so much easier. It is all about targets now.

I digress. The upshot is, keep it simple where it really matters to get it right. Elections should be counted with pen and paper.

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