E-Voting Firm Threatens Ed Felten If He Reviews Its E-Voting Machine
from the well-that's-comforting dept
Many of the folks around here are surely aware of the name Ed Felten, the Princeton professor who runs the fantastic blog Freedom To Tinker, and who has been involved in a number of important technology news stories over the years. One of the first that brought him to much wider attention in the tech community happened back in 2001. The recording industry had set up a contest, asking anyone to try to hack its SDMI DRM offering. The idea was to prove that SDMI was a perfectly good DRM. But, of course, like every other DRM, it had its faults, and Felten and some of his researchers figured them out. That’s where things got ridiculous. Despite the fact that the recording industry had told people to try to hack SDMI, when Felten went to present the paper, he was threatened with a lawsuit for breaking the anti-circumvention clause of the DMCA. Eventually, after a ton of public pressure, the recording industry backed down, but Felten’s name was cemented in the minds of many in the tech industry as a fighter for freedom of speech and, more importantly, the freedom to tinker.
It would appear that the folks at Sequoia, one of the big three e-voting firms out there, is somewhat unaware of this aspect of Felten’s past. In the past few years, Felten has been one of a few top computer science experts who have been picking apart the problems with e-voting machines. His freedom to tinker with such machines has broken numerous stories revealing serious problems with the machines that many suspected, but were unable to confirm, since the e-voting firms kept the machines so under wraps. In publicizing these flaws, Felten has become one of the go-to guys when various governments are reviewing e-voting machines, so it should come as no surprise that election officials in New Jersey (where Felten lives and works) would be interested in having him run some tests on a Sequoia e-voting machine that they’re looking at using in future elections.
This seems perfectly reasonable — and if you’re an e-voting company like Sequoia, it should also be a perfect way to build more trust in your machines, telling people that they’ve been reviewed by some of the top experts in the field who found nothing wrong with them. Except… that’s not how execs at e-voting companies seem to think. Sequoia has, instead, sent a threatening email to Felten, saying that election officials who sent a machine to Felten would be breaking the state’s terms of service with Sequoia, and that the company has:
“retained counsel to stop any infringement of our intellectual properties, including any non-compliant analysis. We will also take appropriate steps to protect against any publication of Sequoia software, its behavior, reports regarding same or any other infringement of our intellectual property.”
Yes, this is quite reminiscent of the recording industry’s threats to Felten in 2001. Hopefully this situation ends similarly — with Sequoia backing down quite publicly and apologizing. It’s disgusting that such a firm would threaten a well-respected researcher with lawsuits just for checking on the security of an e-voting machine. This is worse than the recording industry situation. This is about the sanctity of our democratic elections. For Sequoia, a firm entrusted with our elections, to threaten someone for merely testing its product to make sure it lives up to necessary standards is terribly worrisome. It should call into question any locality that chooses to make use of Sequoia e-voting machines.