Trump Puts Voter Data Collection On Hold After Highly Insecure & Potentially Illegal Process Is Widely Ridiculed
from the encryption-is-for-losers dept
At the tail end of June, The Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity turned heads when it began asking states for confidential voter data. The Commission was formed via executive order back in May as part of a supposed effort to crack down on what the Trump administration has insisted (without any supporting evidence) is an epidemic of widespread voting and voter registration fraud. As part of the data collection the Trump administration demanded voter names, political affiliations, addresses, dates of birth, criminal records, the last four digits of their Social Security numbers, and more.
But it didn’t take long for the entire effort to unravel. The commission’s first misstep was asking states to submit this personal data via unencrypted e-mail. The commission also offered states the ability to deliver the data via a system called SAFE?the Safe Access File Exchange. Traditionally used by the military for the transfer of unclassified files too large for email, the service does allow encrypted transfers via civilian computers, but would have required numerous technical steps and guidance (the commission didn’t take or offer) to adequately protect the data’s integrity:
“But the site?s HTTPS setup, which enables data transmitted from a browser to the site to be sent over an encrypted connection, is problematic for civilian users in state governments. In fact, when state government officials visit the website, they are greeted with a conspicuous warning telling them that their connection is not private?implying that the data could be stolen or altered in transit.”
The commission’s attempt to obtain private voter data by insecure means was quickly and surprisingly laughed off by the majority of states concerned with the obvious privacy implications. Only Arkansas has fully complied with the President’s request, and many states expressed concern that the request and insecure transfer of private data could violate respective state voter privacy laws. Trump’s response to these entirely legitimate, bipartisan concerns about voter privacy? Taking to Twitter to accuse the states of trying to hide something:
Numerous states are refusing to give information to the very distinguished VOTER FRAUD PANEL. What are they trying to hide?
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 1, 2017
Things have been notably complicated by a lawsuit by the ACLU, which claims the commission violated federal public access requirements by holding its first meeting in private, without public notice. The effort has also been hamstrung by a request by The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) for a temporary restraining order (TRO) on the administration’s request until the privacy issue can be litigated in court. That has subsequently forced the Trump administration and its commission to suspend its data collection efforts until a Judge rules on the request:
“Today, July 10, 2017, the Commission also sent the states a follow-up communication requesting the states not submit any data until this Court rules on plaintiff’s TRO motion,” the government wrote (PDF) the court. The commission e-mailed state election officials early Monday that, “Until the judge rules on the TRO, we request that you hold on submitting any data.”
EPIC is suing the commission on accusations that the requested information violates the privacy of American voters. EPIC also says the commission is asking the states to forward the data to an unsecure website, the Department of Defense Safe File Exchange site. The commission said that, if it prevails, it will “use an alternative means for transmitting the requested data.”
This all appears to be driven by Trump’s belief that the only way he could have possibly lost the popular vote is due to fraud (which again, nobody has found any evidence of). Bubbling under all of this is the additional concern that this entire effort has little to do with actually policing voter fraud, and everything to do with finding new and ingenious methods of voter suppression down the road.