Thursday, January 04, 2007

Trade Secrets

A judge has ruled that Christine Jennings, who's been vying with Republican Vern Buchanan for Katherine Harris's seat, has no right to see the source code for the electronic voting machines on which the election relied.

Circuit Judge William Gary ruled that Jennings' arguments about the possibility of lost votes were "conjecture," and didn't warrant overriding the trade secrets of the voting machine company.
The ballots in this race showed an alarming 13-percent undervote. The voting machine manufacturer, Election Systems & Software (ESS), blames the problem on "bad ballot design." Sounds a bit like conjecture, doesn't it?

Here's the actual ruling, which I find fairly bloodcurdling:
For this Court to grant Plaintiffs' motions would require this Court to find that it is reasonably necessary for the Plaintiffs to have access to the trade secrets of Defendant, Election Systems & Software, Inc., based on nothing more than speculation and conjecture, and would result in destroying or at least gutting the protections afforded those who own the trade secrets.
The "speculation and conjecture" in this case revolves around the stark physical fact of 18,000 missing votes, a fact for which there are a small number of possible explanations. It may be that electronic fraud or malfunction is the least likely of these, but then again, the other possibilities are not as serious. I think electronic voting should be done away with entirely, but at the very least, the companies that win these lucrative contracts should forfeit any right to trade-secret protection.

A lot of people think we should have open-source machines. I'd prefer them to proprietary systems, of course, but when you consider the amount of misinformation and confusion that's been sown over the expert analysis of...well, climate change data, for instance, it's not all that reassuring to imagine election results hinging on a disputation over the finer points of audit log encryption in C++.

In other news, Bruce Schneier alerts us to some problems at Ciber, Inc.:
A laboratory that has tested most of the nation's electronic voting systems has been temporarily barred from approving new machines after federal officials found that it was not following its quality-control procedures and could not document that it was conducting all the required tests.
The Pima County Democratic Party Committee on Electronic and Computerized Vote Counting Procedures and Safeguards notes:
CIBER, Inc. donated $25,000 to the Republican National Committee in 2000 and $23,000 to the Allard Victory Committee in support of Republican Wayne Allard's successful run for the U.S. Senate in Colorado in 2002. CIBER's president and CEO, Mac Slingerland, has donated over $17,000 to Republican causes in the last three election cycles.

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