April 16, 2014

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“E-Voting: Risk and Opportunity” Live Stream Tomorrow at 1:30pm Eastern

Despite the challenges due to Hurricane Sandy earlier this week, the Center for Information Technology Policy at Princeton is still hosting “E-Voting: Risk and Opportunity,” a live streamed symposium on the state and future of voting technology. At 1:30pm (Eastern) on November 1, 2012, electronic voting experts from across the United States will discuss what to expect on Election Day, how we might build a secure, convenient, high-tech voting system of the future, and what policymakers should be doing. The current U.S. e-voting system is a patchwork of locally implemented technologies and procedures — with varying degrees of reliability, usability, and security. Different groups have advocated for improved systems, better standards, and new approaches like internet-based voting. Panelists will discuss these issues and more, with a keynote by Professor Ron Rivest. You can watch the event streamed live at https://citp.princeton.edu.

Date: Thursday, November 1, 2012
Time: 1:30 PM – 5:00 PM (Eastern)
Location: streaming online at https://citp.princeton.edu
Hashtag: ask questions and add comments via Twitter at #PrincetonEvoting

Archived video now available:

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Uncertified voting equipment

(Or, why doing the obvious thing to improve voter throughput in Harris County early voting would exacerbate a serious security vulnerability.)

I voted today, using one of the many early voting centers in my county. I waited roughly 35 minutes before reaching a voting machine. Roughly 1/3 of the 40 voting machines at the location were unused while I was watching, so I started thinking about how they could improve their efficiency. If you look at the attached diagram, you’ll see how the polling place is laid out. There are four strings of ten Hart InterCivic eSlate DRE (paperless electronic) voting machines, each connected to a single controller device (JBC) with a local network. These are coded green in the diagram. On the table next to it is a laptop computer, used for verifying voter registration. This has a printer which produces a 2D barcode on a sticker. This is placed on a big sheet of paper, the voter signs it, and then they use the 2D barcode scanner, attached to the JBC, to read the barcode. This is how the JBC knows what ballot style to issue to the voter, avoiding input error on the part of the poll workers. I’ve used the color blue to indicate all of the early voting machinery, not normally present on Election Day (when all of the voters arriving in a given precinct will get the same ballot style).

Poll Diagram
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Why Governments Open: Technology and Inclusive Institutions in Developing Countries

[Editor's note: Tomorrow, Josh Goldstein is presenting on this topic as part of the CITP Luncheon Series, at the Woodrow Wilson School on Princeton's campus. (12:10pm, in Robertson Hall room 023)]

Around the world, societies generally agree that governments and bureaucrats should use the coercive power of the state, not to create extractive institutions that appropriate resources to the powerful elite, but rather to create inclusive institutions, which re-distribute political power and underpin economic institutions that provide incentive for investment and innovation (Acemoglu, Johnson & Robinson 2004).  The Open Government Partnership (OGP), a high-level political movement dedicated to transparency, responsiveness and accountability, is underpinned by the notion that institutions, rather than culture or geography, are the fundamental cause of long-run growth, and that inclusive politics shapes economic institutions, rather than the other way around.
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Can you Hear me Now? In 2012, Some Political Pollsters Still Can’t

Recently, I received a call from Gallup on our landline home phone, seeking to speak with my wife, presumably for a political poll. Because she was not at home at the time, Gallup’s representative told me he would call back later. To our knowledge that follow-up call never came. Gallup’s representative never asked me for my wife’s cell phone number, e-mail address, or any way to reach her beyond calling our home phone number again. Why not?

Apparently, some political polling efforts fail to recognize the variety of ways in which Americans communicate today. On his election season must-read blog FiveThirtyEight, Nate Silver wrote a post last month entitled “Obama’s Lead Looks Stronger in Polls That Include Cellphones.” Specifically, Mr. Silver observed that polls that use live interviewers and include cell phones show stronger results for President Obama than polls that use automated dialing methods or exclude cellphones. According to Mr. Silver, roughly one-third of American households are excluded by polls that call landlines only.
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If Reddit Really Regrets “Not Taking Stronger Action Sooner”, What Will It Do in the Future?

[Editors note: The New York Times weighed in with "When the Web’s Chaos Takes an Ugly Turn", which includes several quotes from Tufekci.]

Reddit may be the most important Internet forum that you have never heard of. It has more than a billion page-views a month, originates many Internet memes, brilliantly exposes hoaxes, hosts commentary on everything ranging from the trivial to the most serious–and it is the forum that President Barack Obama chose for his “ask me anything” session. Part of Reddit’s success has been due to it’s “live and let live” ethos in sub-forums, called “subreddits.” These sub-forums are created and moderated by volunteers with little or no interference from Reddit, whose parent company is the publishing conglomerate Condé Nast. This delegation approach facilitates Reddit’s business model, allowing it to operate with a comparatively small paid staff. However, the sub-forums that have flourished under this model are at times predatory and disturbing. For instance, “jailbait” was dedicated to sexually suggestive pictures of minors, and “creepshots” specialized in nonconsensual revealing photos of of women in public places–including infamous “upskirt” photos.

The brewing controversy came to a turning point last week after the infamous moderator of sub-forums “jailbait”, “creepshots”, “rape”, “incest”, and “PicsOfDeadKids” was outed by Gawker. The moderator, “Violentacrez”, was revealed to be 49-year-old computer programmer Michael Brutsch. Outing a person’s name, or “doxxing”, is one of the few things that Reddit bans outright. Thus, Reddit chose to ban all links to Gawker from the site, but later rescinded the decision. The issue has been taken up in high-profile Reddit forums like “politics” an “TIL” (“Today I Learned”). Michael Brutsch, meanwhile, lost his job.
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Zuckerberg Goes to Russia as the Global Network Initiative Turns 4

The Global Network Initiative (GNI) was founded in October 2008 to help technology firms navigate the political implications of their success. Engineers at the world’s leading technology firms have been incredibly innovative, but do not always the global dynamics of their innovation. Moreover, they do not always acknowledge the ways in which politicians get involved with the design process. The creation of the GNI signaled that some in the technology sector were ready to start having more open conversations. Facebook recently joined the GNI–now four years old–as an “observer”. But the company’s founder Mark Zuckerberg also traveled to Moscow to meet with that country’s tech-savvy second-in-command, Dmitri Medvedev. With the anniversary of the GNI in mind, let’s consider the different ways of interpreting the Zuckerberg-Medvedev summit.

Zuckerberg Meets MedvedevNixon Meets Mao

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My Work at Princeton: Mobile Technology, Community Building and Civic Engagement

I’m excited to spend my year as a Fellow at the Center for Information Technology Policy exploring and testing ideas about how broadband technology – particularly mobile wireless services – can and should be used to build strong local communities.

Patent Diagram ThumbmnailI have always been interested in how seemingly simple improvements to the existing way of doing something can make a big difference. As I was heading off to become an undergrad, I received a patent on new type of plastic bottle for dispensing thick liquids, such as ketchup. I figured that every extra little bit that people could get out of the bottom of ketchup, lotion, shampoo, and salad dressing bottles would save consumers a little money and add a little bit of convenience. For a variety of reasons that I’d be happy to discuss more in person, the plastic bottling industry did not shower me with royalties.
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Unlocking Hidden Consensus in Legislatures

A legislature is a small group with a big impact. Even for people who will never be part of one, the mechanics of a legislature matter — when they work well, we all benefit, and when they work poorly, we all lose out.

At the same time, with several hundred participants, legislatures are large enough to face some of the same collective action problems and risks that happen in larger groups.

As an example, consider the U.S. Congress. Many members might prefer to reduce agricultural subsidies (a view shared by most Americans, in polls) but few are eager to stick their necks out and attract the concentrated ire of the agricultural lobby. Most Americans care more about other things, and since large agricultural firms lobby and contribute heavily to protect the subsidies, individual members face a high political cost for acting on their own (and their constituents’) views on the issue. As another case in point, nearly all Congressional Republicans have signed Grover Norquist’s Taxpayer Protection Pledge, promising never to raise taxes at all (not even minimally, in exchange for massive spending cuts). But every plausible path to a balanced budget involves a combination of spending cuts and tax increases. Some Republicans may privately want to put a tax increase on the table, as they negotiate with Democrats to balance the budget — in which case there may be majority support for a civically fruitful compromise involving both tax increases and spending cuts. But any one Republican who defects from the pledge will face well-financed retaliation — because, and only because, with few or no defectors, Norquist can afford to respond to each one.

These are classic collective action problems. What if, as in other areas of life, we could build an online platform to help solve them?

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Supreme Court to Hear State Freedom of Information Act Case “McBurney v. Young”

On Friday, the Supreme Court granted certiorari to McBurney v. Young. This case formally concerns the “Privileges and Immunities Clause” of the Constitution. It raises questions about what access rights citizens have to government records and about who counts as a journalist. Oral argument will likely be scheduled for 2013.

Mark McBurney is a citizen of Rhode Island who requested public records from the Commonwealth of Virginia. His request was denied because the Virginia Freedom of Information Act (VFOIA) prohibits requests that are made by citizens of other states. About seven other states have similar limitations. McBurney appealed to the 4th Circuit, claiming that he should have the same rights of access as Virginians under the US Constitution’s guarantee that, “The Citizens of each State shall be entitled to all Privileges and Immunities of Citizens in the several States.” McBurney lost in the 4th Circuit earlier this year. However, in 2006, Matthew Lee (a citizen of New York seeking records from Delaware) had won a similar case in the 3rd Circuit. The Supreme Court is now tasked with reconciling this split.
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Introducing Myself: Technology, Society, and Public Policy

I’m a fellow at the Center for Information Technology Policy at Princeton this year. My first months here have already been amazing. I’m pleased to be joining this blog as well!

My conceptual toolkit and my method comes mostly from sociology, but I’m also a former computer programmer. That means that I feel welcome in a place where policy people and computer scientists collaborate. My interests revolve around how technology and society interact, and I’ve been enjoying having these conversations with many new people. I research a variety of topics concerning the social impacts of technology — things like social interaction, collective action, and privacy & publicity. I’m also enjoying teaching a course this Fall at the Woodrow Wilson School called “New Media and Social Movements: New Tools for an Old Game” (syllabus here – PDF).
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