May 30, 2024

Archives for June 2004

Wireless Unleashed

WirelessUnleashed is a new group blog, dedicated to wireless policy, from Kevin Werbach, Andrew Odlyzko, David Isenberg, and Clay Shirky. Based on the author-list alone, it’s worth our attention.

E-Voting Testing Labs Not Independent

E-voting vendors often argue that their systems must be secure, because they have been tested by “independent” labs. Elise Ackerman’s story in Sunday’s San Jose Mercury-News explains the depressing truth about how the testing process works.

There are only three labs, and they are overseen by a private body that is supported financially by the vendors. There is no government oversight. The labs have refused to release test results to state election officials, saying the results are proprietary and will be given only to the vendor whose product was tested:

Dan Reeder, a spokesman for Wyle, which functioned as the nation’s sole testing lab from 1994 to 1997, said the company’s policy is to provide information to the manufacturers who are its customers.

It’s worth noting, too, that the labs do not test the security of the e-voting systems; they only test the systems’ compliance with standards.

SysTest Labs President Brian Phillips said the security risks identified by the outside scientists were not covered by standards published by the Federal Election Commission. “So long as a system does not violate the requirements of the standards, it is OK,” Phillips said.

A few states do their own testing, or hire their own independent labs. It seems to me that state election officials should be able to get together and establish a truly independent testing procedure that has some teeth.

The Creation of the Media

I just finished reading “The Creation of the Media,” by Paul Starr, a sociology professor here at Princeton. This is an important book and I recommend it highly.

Starr traces the history of communications and the media in the U.S., from the 1700s until 1940. The major theme of the book is that the unique features of U.S. media derive from political choices made in the early days of each technology. These choices, once made, can be very difficult to unmake later – witness the challenges now in reconsidering the use of the radio spectrum. After reading Starr’s book, there can be little doubt that the choices we make now will shape the development of the Internet for a very long time.

For a concise summary of the book, it’s hard to beat the review in Sunday’s New York Times, by James Fallows.

In his limited space, Fallows leaves out one pattern noted by Starr that carries obvious lessons for us. When U.S. policy was at its best, it refused to give the titans of one technology control over the next technology that came along. For example, the Post Office was not given control of the telegraph; Western Union did not control the telephone; and AT&T was locked out of radio. The lessons for us now, when the masters of old technologies, such as the movies and recorded music, want to control Internet technologies, should be obvious.