August 18, 2018

Archives for April 2013

Internet Voting Security: Wishful Thinking Doesn’t Make It True

[The following is a post written at my invitation by Professor Duncan Buell from the University of South Carolina. Curiously, the poll Professor Buell mentions below is no longer listed in the list of past & present polls on the Courier-Journal site, but is available if you kept the link.]

On Thursday, March 21, in the midst of Kentucky’s deliberation over allowing votes to be cast over the Internet, the daily poll of the Louisville Courier-Journal asked the readers, “Should overseas military personnel be allowed to vote via the Internet?” This happened the day before their editorial rightly argued against Internet voting at this time.

One of the multiple choice answers was “Yes, it can be made just as secure as any balloting system.” This brings up the old adage, “we are all entitled to our own opinions, but we are not entitled to our own facts.” The simple fact is that Internet voting is possible – but it is definitely NOT as secure as some other balloting systems. This is not a matter of opinion, but a matter of fact. Votes cast over the Internet are easily subject to corruption in a number of different ways.

To illustrate this point, two colleagues, both former students, wrote simple software scripts that allowed us to vote multiple times in the paper’s opinion poll. We could have done this with repeated mouse clicks on the website, but the scripts allowed us to do it automatically, and by night’s end we had voted 60,000 times. The poll vendor’s website claims that it blocks repeated voting, but that claim is clearly not entirely true. We did not break in to change the totals. We did not breach the security of the Courier-Journal’s computers. We simply used programs instead of mouse clicks to vote on the poll website itself.
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Two Major updates to RECAP: Developers from Around the World Write Code in Memory of Aaron Swartz

A little over two months ago, we joined with the Think Computer Foundation to offer a set of grants in memory of our friend Aaron Swartz. Aaron worked on many issues in his too-short life, but one of those was liberating American court records from behind a pay-wall. He helped to inspire our RECAP project, which has allowed thousands of people to legally liberate and share millions of public records.

We didn’t know if anyone would take up the challenge, but today we are extremely pleased to award two of these grants. These awards recognize some truly amazing coding by software developers that were inspired by Aaron Swartz and his causes. Over the past several years, the two most-requested features for RECAP have been support for US Courts of Appeals (a.k.a. circuit courts), and a version of RECAP that works with the Chrome browser.

Ka-Ping Yee, Filippo Valsorda, and Alessio Palmero Aprosio represent the best kind of technological idealists. They are idealists that not only believe in worthy causes, but also have the engineering expertise and the dogged determination to see their vision through. Read more about them and install their code at recapthelaw.org.

The District of Columbia Claims Copyright on the Law

Update: They released the unofficial version of the DC Code under a CC-0 License. Josh Tauberer has the backstory.

Copyright exists to incentivize people to create new works. The federal government is not allowed to copyright things, because they don’t need the added incentive, and it would be bad if they started charging for access to something like the text of laws that they promulgate. If ignorance of the law is no excuse, the law must be public and knowable.

It’s a little bit more muddled at the state level. The District of Columbia claims that they own the copyright to the municipal code of DC. This is insane. Furthermore, as documented by Tom MacWright, DC has sold the exclusive rights to digital copies of the DC code to West (Thomson Reuters), and they cannot legally redistribute an electronic version of the code. This makes all kinds of democracy-enhancing activities impossible. In fact, even the physical copies of the DC Code bear the notices “Copyright 2001 by The District of Columbia” and “All Rights Reserved.”

Rogue archivist Carl Malamud thought that this was not only stupid, but also illegal. So, he bought all 23 volumes of the DC code for $803.00, scanned them, and posted them on the web. I agreed with Carl, so I downloaded his copies, printed one of the volumes, and took a picture inviting Thomson Reuters or the DC Council to sue me too.
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