Thursday, March 01, 2007

Open letter to Dutch Minister on evoting

In the light of the revlations thrown up by their successful freedom of information requests, "We do not trust voting computers" has written an open letter to the new Dutch minister responsible for evoting. An English translation of the text of the letter follows:

"As you probably know our foundation is worried about the state of the electoral process. At thismoment we would like draw your attention to a matter which underlines the seriousness of the matter at hand and which we feel demands immediate action on your part. We recently received some unnerving documents from the Electoral Council as a result of a Freedom of Information request we filed there. From these documents it becomes clear that your predecessor Mr. Nicolaï at the time of the last elections was being extorted by the largest seller of voting computers and election software. Attached you will find a copy of the press release as it can be found on thewebsite of our foundation. This website also has copies of all supporting documents mentioned in the press release.

Unfortunately we are faced with a situation in which independent verification with regard to voting computers is often interpreted to mean that the manufacturers inspect themselves. In this light we wonder how to explain to the Dutch voters that before the last elections the minister issued a press release stating “no doubts over trustworthiness of voting machine” while at the same time he was being extorted by the company selling the software without which elections cannot be held. (Among other things the owner of the company wanted the government to buy his company in trade for his continued cooperation during the upcoming provincial elections)

Although the government has itself to blame for the vulnerable and dependent position in which it finds itself today, we feel this is not an excuse to let these threats pass by. For as far as you haven’t acted already, the “We do not trust voting computers” foundation calls upon you to take all legal and other measures needed to restore faith in the electoral process and to show that our
government cannot be extorted. "

This story has a long way to run in Holland but it really should be told everywhere that currently uses or is considering using evoting systems.

Evoting company allegedly threatens Dutch government

If this story is true or even just partly true, it merits widespread exposure. It clearly indicates the kind of serious problems a state can expose itself to when an electoral process is electronically facilitated and the electronic voting systems are supplied by a single or small number of dominant suppliers.

"After invoking the Dutch Freedom of Information Act, the "We do not trust voting computers" foundation has received a number of unnerving documents from the Dutch Electoral Council. These documents describe the wheeling and dealing of Jan Groenendaal, whose company is responsible for all the software sold by the Nedap/Groenendaal consortium that sells the voting computers used in over 90% of Dutch municipalities. Groenendaal's company writes the software that tabulates the election results on both the local and the national level. The Dutch government depends on Groenendaal's company to the extent that it currently cannot hold elections without his help. The Electoral Council also concludes this in worried letters (Dutch) to the responsible minister that are part of the correspondence now made public.

The letters also show that Groenendaal was more or less blackmailing the Dutch government at the time of the previous parliamentary elections. On November 10th, he sends an e-mail (english translation) warning the ministry that his company will cease all activity if Rop Gonggrijp of the "We do not trust voting computers" foundation becomes a member of the independent commission that is investigating the future of the electoral process. This commission was instituted after earlier exposés by the foundation Gonggrijp founded. Despite this intervention, Groenendaal probably senses that the commission's report (due in October 2007) is likely to negatively impact the value of his company. Therefore, Groenendaal makes a very straightforward business proposal in the same e-mail, : "The ministry buys the shares of our company at a reasonable price, [...] and we will still cooperate during the next election (the Dutch 2007 provincial elections to be held March 7th)."

The story is backed up with copies of actual documents apparently obtained under Dutch freedom of information regulations which, if the English translations supplied are accurate, make profoundly disturbing reading. Sample of an email (English translation) from Jan Groenendaal to Harke Heida in the Dutch government:

"Thank you for responding despite these busy times. Like no other we
know the stress surrounding an election. That's why we are were shocked
by the unnecessary and undesirable increase of pressure here.
However, the tenor of your answer is exactly what I didn't want to
hear. On hearing the word 'committee', leave alone 'broad committee',
my hair stands on end. For the cause of the current 'commotion' can
be attributed largely to that other commission (from Ireland) which
needed two years and 365 pages to cloud its incompetence...

It's not a secret that the moment hacker G. would be admitted to such a
committee, we will instantly suspend all our activities and invoke the

Otherwise, we've asked our Legal Adviser to examine the possibilities
to start criminal proceedings against this criminal, based on a
so-called section X procedure, for situations where the government has
been failing in fulfilling its law enforcement duty.

After all, his activities are disrupting society and thereby comparable
to acts of terrorism. Detention pending trial and a preliminary
investigation hearing would have been completely justified here...

If the department believes, as now obviously appears from the
disproportional concern, that we do not come up to the mark, then the
solution is clear;

* The department takes over the shares of our company at a
reasonable price,

* Ceases operations immediately

* Has its hands completely free for every future development that
can be thought off,

* Amortising the takeover expenses within a few elections by
means of charging the municipalities, which see temporarily
continuation of the service for a gentle price, unless off
course the ministry comes up with something better overnight.

* We will then still cooperate for the next elections (PS 2007)."

Contrary to Mr Gronenendaal's claims about the "incompetence" of the Irish Commission on Electronic voting, the work and reports of that body are models of clarity, rationality and common sense in outlining the challenges associated with electronic voting systems. His desire for Rop Gonggrijp to be treated as a terrorist for exposing the serious security problems with the Dutch evoting systems would be comical if it was not so scary. His threat to "suspend all our activities" should Mr Gonggrip become a member of the proposed Dutch commission to look into the voting system problems surely needs to be subject to a legality litmus test, as presumably does the proposal that the Dutch government buy out his company. In a subsequent letter (English translation) to the Dutch Minister of Governmental Innovation on 22 November 2006 Mr Groenendaal says:

"For different reasons than expected (retirement) the survival of our agency is at stake abruptly, and with that the preparation of the coming elections is in danger too. Correspondence on this matter with Mr Heide from your department did not produce any results. He refers to the independent committee that you have promised The House. I'm afraid we cannot nor want to wait for that.

My concrete proposal:

· The ministry takes over our agency, naturally at a suitable fee, and receives the
ownership of the software.
· Maintenance of the application is commissioned to a non-commercial supramunicipial
· We will make ourselves available, if desired, for supporting the transition.
I have to press for a quick response."

It seems on 11 December he sent another email in which he apparently says "I have ordered my employees to halt all activity until we have received an answer that is acceptable to us"

These events present a fundamental challenge to the workings of the Dutch democratic process, so surely the interest in this story has got to spread beyond the usual community of evoting geeks like yours truly? We can only hope.

EDRI-gram latest

The latest EDRI-gram is even more packed with useful digital rights stories than usual, all of which are recommended reading. Ian Brown's contribution on the International Intellectual Property Alliance's latest Section 301 report, that I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, is particularly worth a perusal.

"This "Special 301" procedure can lead to significant trade sanctions against countries that are judged to be uncooperative in the US drive for ever stronger intellectual property rights. It has been used over the last two decades to bully developing nations into signing quite inappropriate IP agreements such as the World Trade Organisation's TRIPS and "TRIPS plus" Free Trade Agreements with the US...

To their credit, ten EU nations are included in IIPA's hit list, which makes some extraordinary demands. Greece is told that immigrant street vendors involved in copyright infringement should be deported and that tax authorities should audit software licences for all firms. Bulgaria, Hungary and Romania are scolded for concentrating police, prosecutor and judicial attention on their societies' most pressing problems rather than on cases of copyright infringement, while Latvia is warned that it must fully staff its new IPR enforcement police division. Lithuania and Poland are also instructed to increase Customs operations against the import of infringing goods. Italy, Greece, Poland and Sweden are criticised for privacy laws that prevent ISPs disclosing the identity of their customers to right holders based upon an Internet Protocol address. Sweden is admonished for "society's high acceptance of filesharing" and its "notoriety as a piracy safe haven" - and yet right holders are "deeply concerned" about discussion of a compulsory licence to provide artists with compensation for filesharing. Poland's universities and lecturers are instructed to "cultivate a climate of respect for copyright" amongst their students, and Hungary told to "closely monitor" its high-speed academic network for copyright infringement. Spain's prosecutors, judges and law students apparently need some re-education in the value of intellectual property rights, while the Spanish government is ordered to reverse the "stunning" decision of the General Public Prosecutor that his staff have more pressing concerns than the criminal prosecution of peer-to-peer downloaders."

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

EFF Lawsuit Seeks Release of Secret Court Orders on Electronic Surveillance

From beSpacific, EFF Lawsuit Seeks Release of Secret Court Orders on Electronic Surveillance

MP3 patent dispute closer to home

It seems Microsoft are not the only organisation to lose out in MP3 patent litigation recently. In a complex case SanDisk Corporation v Koninklijke Philips Electronics and others [2007] EWHC 332 (Ch), an England and Wales Chancery Division, Mr Justice Pumfrey ruled against SanDisk which had been importing MP3 players to the EU without paying a license fee to Sisvel. Apparently, according to IPKat, most MP3 makers are licensees of these patents, which Sisvel claim are essential for anyone who wants to make or sell an MP3 player in the EU.

The decision merits careful reading and consideration but it's not one for the fainthearted. It involves, patent law, EU competition law, seisure of goods at borders regulations, jurisdictional issues and a host of other subtlties. IPKat in summary says Sandisk sued

"in March 2006 for declarations relating to essentiality and non-infringement. Philips and friends counterclaimed for infringement (the trial date is fixed for February 2008).

In retaliation, Sisvel sought and obtained Border Detention Orders under Regulation 1383/2003, the result being that all MP3 players except those originating with a manufacturer or destined for a consignee whose name appears upon a list will be detained at its point of entry to the EU for ten days, during which Sisvel can sue for patent infringement in order to prevent the goods detained being released and entering free circulation in the EU. These orders have resulted in pending proceedings for infringement against SanDisk in Germany and the Netherlands (non-border-related infringement proceedings are also outstanding in Germany and Italy). There were also some very embarrassing high-profile seizures of allegedly infringing SanDisk MP3s at trade fairs.

SanDisk maintained that that Sisvel and the owners of the patents it administers had a dominant position which, it argued, was being abused by Sisvel's policy of harassment. This abuse being a wrong under Article 81 and 82 of the EC Treaty, interim injunctive relief against its enforcement activities was sought. Sisvel argued that there was no jurisdiction to grant interim relief in this sort of situation."

IPKat and the judge lament the fact that although Sisvel have European Patent Office granted patents, they are obliged to pursue any enforcement actions on a state by state basis. Yet far from being the open un-IP-encumbered standard it was widely perceived to be, MP3 is proving in recent weeks to be another money making landscape for the lawyerly classes. Neither the Microsoft v Alcatel-Lucent nor the Sandisk cases had really registered on the radar of even the tech press yet both have important implications for the future of the knowledge economy.

Committee on Standards in Public Life Call for halt to UK evoting

The the review of the Electoral Commission by the Committee on Standards in Public life has led to a call (Word doc) for a halt to the evoting pilots planned for the UK local elections in May. Jason Kitcat says:

"Yesterday, Sir Alistair Graham, chair of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, called for the 2007 electoral pilots in the UK to be halted, in a speech to the Association of Electoral Administrators conference. Sir Alistair’s committee has recently published a report on the Electoral Commission calling for major reform of both the commission and our electoral system, particularly with regard to fraud.

Sir Alistair is proving to be a strong, independent new voice in the debate concerning our electoral system. His speech today made every point we would like to make and then some. Even though electoral fraud undermines voter confidence, is the DCA’s and the Electoral Commission’s focus on increasing participation causing them to turn a blind eye to fraud? Given existing problems with fraud and unsatisfactory systems for combating fraud, is it appropriate to rush ahead with pilot schemes?

Sir Alistair also argued that the government had been entirely misleading in their use of statistics from Northern Ireland, which has a much stricter electoral regime than the rest of the UK. Sir Alistair argued that in the long term new measures in Northern Ireland had not been damaging to participation as the DCA had argued, and that we should be replicating those measures across the rest of the UK.

The debate continued on BBC Radio 4’s The World at One where Sir Alistair argued that the DCA’s priorities were wrong, saying that “we should be concentrating on safeguarding the integrity of the current voting system rather than experimenting in remote systems which are bound to carry a high risk”.

In an absurd argument, David Monks, Chief Executive and returning officer for Huntingdonshire, stated that if we don’t pilot new voting technologies the fraudsters will have won by preventing changes which benefit society and meet our new modern lifestyles.

Finally, DCA minister Bridget Prentice MP replied to Sir Alistair by saying that he was “just plain wrong”. She didn’t accept any of his arguments whatsoever. She also ignored the implications of this week’s visit by a Council of Europe delegation assessing whether the UK’s electoral system needs to be monitored for fraud, along with many former Soviet republics.

We briefly met the Council of Europe delegation on Monday, giving them copies of the ORG e-voting briefing pack. They seemed to be deeply concerned by the level of worry about fraud in the UK. Indeed, my analysis of 2006 opinion research for the Electoral Commission shows that the public clearly want secret and secure votes ahead of anything else like convenience. Furthermore, political issues were shown to be the main barriers to turnout and not ease of voting.

As Sir Alistair puts it, “deep-seated voter disengagement will not be solved by tinkering with the mechanics of the electoral system”."

Amazon lose latest round with EPO on 1-click patent

From IPKat:

" have suffered another setback in their struggle with the European Patent Office to get a European patent granted for their 'one-click' internet shopping invention (some history and commentary on the subject here and here).

Right: One click and they're yours

The original US application was granted as US5960411 back in September 1999, but Amazon have failed as yet to get anything similar granted at the EPO...

One of the EPO's arguments against the application was that it was an "abuse of process" under Article 125 EPC. This did not, however, get very far in the proceedings, since the EPO did not follow the argument through with any enthusiasm, and merely stated that is was a "general principle that abuse of proceedings are not to be accepted", referring to the Spanish civil code, without coming to any conclusion.

As expected, Amazon lost anyway on more conventional grounds, the examining division deciding that they couldn't see any features in the various alternative requests submitted that provided a technical solution to a technical problem, the standard EPO test for assessing inventive step."

On finding the bones of Jesus

Mark Steel is on form this morning commenting on the claim that the bones of Jesus have been discovered in Jerusalem.

"But just as it's futile to search for proof of the Bible's authority, it's also pointless trying to disprove it. Because people believe in heavenly Gods for earthly reasons. So if the material world demands they work on the sabbath they will, and they'll re-interpret their scripture accordingly. The Borgias, the Spanish Inquisition, the Mafia, Bush and Blair have happily interpreted one of the commandments as '"Thou shalt only kill if you really think the bastard deserves it."

Equally, religious followers can adapt their faith to justify and inspire the most heroic acts. Muhammad Ali, Bob Marley, Johnny Cash, and almost every rebel movement in history, have explained their motives in religious terms, and have been less cynical than a director claiming to have found the bones of Jesus.

Or maybe the DNA tests will prove this really was him. In which case Blair will be the first to congratulate him, saying, "This shows how we would all benefit if messiahs were compelled to have DNA records taken and kept by the local praetorian guard on a national database." "

TIA phoenix rises from the ashes

It seems the Total Information Awareness surveillance system lives again, having been canned by Congress in 2003, allegedly due to privacy concerns but primarily due to its cost and lack of effectiveness. The new version is to be called Analysis, Dissemination, Visualization, Insight and Semantic Enhancement (ADVISE). When they've burnt through a few million more US taxpayers dollars they'll find out that this one doesn't work either. When will they get the message that statisitically the false positives and false negatives make it impossible for these systems to be of any practical use apart from being wielded as security theatre.

Thanks to HJ Affleck at FIPR for the link.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

OU tutors charity

Some Open University colleagues have generously decided to donate their increase in salary to charity. Accordingly they have created a "giving page" to contribute to ActionAid.

And since I've mentioned charity, could I draw your attention too to the help feed the hungry button a little further down the page.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Open Access Reshaping Rules of Research

Michael Geist says open access is reshaping the rules of research

"Last month five leading European research institutions launched a petition that called on the European Commission to establish a new policy to require that all government-funded research be made available to the public shortly after publication. That requirement - called an open access principle - would leverage widespread Internet connectivity with low-cost electronic publication to create a freely available virtual scientific library available to the entire globe.

Despite scant media attention, word of the petition spread quickly throughout the scientific and research communities. Within weeks, it garnered more than 20,000 signatures, including several Nobel prize winners and over 750 education, research, and cultural organizations from around the world.

In response, the European Commission committed over $100 million toward facilitating greater open access through support for open access journals and for the building of the infrastructure needed to house institutional repositories that can store the millions of academic articles written each year...

Researchers are increasingly choosing to publish in freely available, open access journals posted on the Internet, rather than in conventional, subscription-based publications. The Directory of Open Access Journals, a Swedish project that links to open access journals in all disciplines, currently lists more than 2,500 open access journals worldwide featuring over 127,000 articles...

For those researchers committed to traditional publication, open access principles mandate that they self-archive their work by depositing an electronic copy in freely available institutional repositories shortly after publication. This approach grants the public full access to the work, while retaining the current peer-reviewed conventional publication model.

While today this self-archiving approach is typically optional, a growing number of funding agencies moving toward a mandatory requirement. These include the National Institutes of Health in the U.S., the Wellcome Trust in the United Kingdom, and the Australian Research Council."

Shoot the pianist

There's an interesting story breaking in the classical music world.

"Starting in 1989, Joyce Hatto began recording CDs for a small record label run by her husband. She began with Liszt, went back to cover Bach and all of the Mozart sonatas and continued with a complete Beethoven sonata set. Then on to Schubert and Schumann, Chopin and more Liszt. She played Messiaen. Her Prokofiev sonatas (all nine) were tossed off with incredible virtuosity. In total she recorded more than 120 CDs — including many of the most difficult piano pieces ever written, played with breathtaking speed and accuracy.

Intriguingly, she gave to the music a developed although oddly malleable personality. She could do Schubert in one style, and then Prokofiev almost as though she was a new person playing a different piano — an astonishing, chameleon-like artistic ability...

Earlier this month, a reader of the British music magazine Gramophone told one of its critics, Jeremy Distler, that something odd happened when he slid Ms. Hatto’s CD of Liszt’s “Transcendental Études” into his computer. His iTunes library, linked to a catalogue of about four million CDs, immediately identified it as a recording by the Hungarian pianist Laszlo Simon. Mr. Distler then listened to both recordings, and found them identical.

Since then, analysis by professional sound engineers and piano enthusiasts across the globe has pushed toward the same conclusion: the entire Joyce Hatto oeuvre recorded after 1989 appears to be stolen from the CDs of other pianists. It is a scandal unparalleled in the annals of classical music."

Andrys Basten has a collection of useful links to detail and background. Jessica Duchen also has a nice overview of the story in the Extra section of today's Indpendent, Notes on a Scandal.

The brutal reality of our asylum policy

From Yasmin Alibhai-Brown in the Independent, The brutal reality of our asylum policy

"the plight of asylum-seekers and migrants forcibly deported every day to confirm that John Reid is a man of steel.

Reid has declared war on some of the most oppressed of the world. His department operates policies and practices of institutionalised savagery, rebranded as efficiency. On Tuesday, Tough John will tell us his office is deporting more people than the numbers of "bogus" asylum applicants coming in. To get to target, they pick low-hanging fruit - babies, tots, mums, who will go quietly weeping...

In January, New Labour politicians marked Holocaust Memorial day promising yet again "never again", while sending off black people to be incarcerated or obliterated.

Is there an adequate world in English to describe such fraudulence...

Who speaks for disbelieved and despised asylum-seekers? Nobody in politics, a handful of religious leaders and journalists, and some ordinary Britons of conscience, too few. The national mood is toxic, and even nice liberals now choose to believe that the majority who flee here are scum or cunning terrorists. These newest recruits to Close Britannia have never met a single asylum-seeker in person, which is why their generic condemnation is so guilt-free...

Our Government has in effect torn up the Geneva Convention. It embodied the repudiation of barbarously efficient Nazis who believed some were born less human than others. That barbarism is back again. Can we stop the flight of shame tonight and save ourselves? Lord Macaulay once described Britain as "the sacred last refuge of mankind". That is the heritage we must reclaim from the bully boys of New Labour."

Colin Firth has also written to the Independent outlining the case of a man the UK is about to deport to the Congo, a nurse imprisoned and tortured for refusing to administer morphine overdoses, who managed to escape and make his way to the UK in 2002. This nurse, along with 22 other adults and 19 children are being flown back to their homeland today, a place where 4 million people have been murdered since 1998.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

The Ecstasy of Influence: A plagiarism

I've just come across The Ecstasy of Influence: A plagiarism by Jonathan Lethem. It's quite clever - the whole thing is basically a collage of plagiarised bits from other people's writings and makes the point about over reaching intellectual property regulations very nicely. I believe it is based on talk he gave at a conference held at NYU in 2006, Comedies of Fair U$e.