Secret Vote? Not on “our” Internet — just the insiders and bad guys know how you intended to vote

From Public Media:  Internet S.O.S. <read>

Is the Internet on life support?

Last week we learned that U.S. and British intelligence agencies have broken the back of digital encryption — the coded technology hundreds of millions of Internet users rely on to keep their communications private.

Over the weekend, Der Spiegel reported that the NSA and its British counterpart are also hacking into smartphones to monitor our daily lives in ways that wouldn’t have been possible before the age of the iPhone.

This news, just the latest revelations from the files of Edward Snowden, only heighten our sense that we can no longer assume anything we say or do online is secure.

But that’s not all. In a case that was heard in a U.S. federal appeals court on Monday, telecommunications colossus Verizon is arguing that it has the First Amendment right to block and censor Internet users. (That’s right. Verizon is claiming that, as a corporation, it has the free speech right to silence the online expression of everybody else.)

Government and corporate forces have joined to chip away at two pillars of the open Internet.It’s come to this. Government and corporate forces have joined to chip away at two pillars of the open Internet: the control of our personal data and our right to connect and communicate without censorship or interference.

The Surveillance Industrial Complex

A series of reports coordinated among the Guardian, the New York Times and ProPublica revealed that the NSA and its British counterpart have secretly unlocked encryption technologies used by popular online services, including Google, Facebook and Microsoft…

The secret vote has not always been guaranteed in the U.S. People used to vote in public, the way the Connecticut Legislature and the U.S. Congress does, where we know every vote. Public voting systems have advantages in integrity – it is easy to know the votes were recorded and tabulated correctly when they are given and posted publicly. What could go wrong…

The problems with a public vote are vote buying and intimidation. In the old days before the Civil War, it was superficially who would provide the most food or the best beer. Yet, it was more likely intimidation that led citizens to vote the way their friends, employers, benefactors, or bullies would want. Today, most people believe the secret vote is in the public interest.

For the benefits it provides, the secret vote has some costs and risks. Polling places, ballots, and absentee ballots are constructed and managed in ways that make it difficult, hopefully close to impossible, for any voter’s vote to be determined by others and proven to others by the voter. (Absentee votes being an exception, where voters can easily, yet illegally, demonstrate their vote to a buyer, friend, or intimidator). Extra work is required in counting secret votes, keeping them secret, and risks that they are not correctly recorded or tabulated, based on fraud or error. Thus, for the secret ballot we have increased cost, risk incorrect results, and reduced credibility.

There is perhaps something even worse than the risks of the secret vote or the risks of the public vote. Voting via Internet in a way that has many of the risks of public voting, without the benefits, along with the risks of secret voting and lack of confidence in the system. That would be Internet voting with election official insiders, outside hackers, outside political interests, outside business interests, and the Government itself able to see your vote and possibly manipulate the result; no credibility and plenty of perceived intimidation.

What is perceived intimidation?  We can easily envision the soldier going into a room to vote on the Internet, told by his superior several times, perhaps with a wink, “Nothing to worry about troop, the system is secure. I could not possibly know how you voted”. We can envision similar scenarios for Government employees, business employees, or church members “encouraged” to vote on computers owned by their employer, union, or church. No actual Interned insecurity required, just perceived intimidation.  Less easy to envision, is that it would actually be the same for the rest of us voting at home over the Internet, knowing that many can know our vote, but we cannot be sure that our vote or anyone’s is correctly counted.

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