March 11th, 2006

The Internet amazes me, again.

A little while ago i came across a blog post written in Finnish by Antti Vähä-Sipilä, referring to something i wrote at Usable Security. So i asked if anyone knew Finnish.

The very next day i received a complete translation in e-mail from Janne Jalkanen, who had met me six years ago in Australia. Here it is.

Web forms or public vote?

The planning of electronic voting is progressing in Finland. The department of Justice has published a summary of all the comments received to the proposal. (I wrote some comments earlier, which ended up to the Dep. Just. among the comments submitted by the Green Alliance.)

Ka-Ping Yee, who is one of the most known experts in the field of combining usability and security, writes in his "Usable Security blog" about the basic problem of electronic voting. From the viewpoint of a layman a computer is often a black box which does magical things. From the expert point of view a computer is a black box, which contains a lot more black boxes, all of which do magical things, the magicality of which depends on the expertiness level of the expert. Ka-Ping Yee has drawn a good picture of this box game, though he has concentrated on just the software boxes. Any box functioning erroneusly may affect the outcome of the vote.

OK, let as assume that the implementer of a voting system - let us label them with the symbol "TietoEnator" - puts their best resources to audit every black box. Most of the boxes will be audited pretty well. But do they all? How about those boxes which are not programmed, built or bought by this "TietoEnator", e.g. keyboard drivers, Windows kernel, display drivers, etc? I don't believe that "TietoEnator" would get so much money that they would build all this stuff from scratch. THey would build it, as is customary, from black boxes which already exist.

Wouldn't it therefore be so much easier to use a paper printout prepared by the voter? The voter punches his choice from a touch screen, the device prints a paper, the voter checks that it was correct, and then the paper goes into a traditional box (and the computer can put the "right" result in the "electric box").

Of course this would make the entire concept of electronic voting rather useless. But it seems that this position should not be spoken out loud, or risk being called a neo-luddite.

Thank you, Janne!

(Wow, someone thinks i'm an expert! :) )