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Sequoia Threatens Over Voting Machine Evaluation 221

Posted by kdawson
from the don't-look-in-there dept.
enodo writes "Voting machine manufacturer Sequoia has sent well-known Princeton professor Ed Felten and his colleague Andrew Appel a letter threatening to sue if New Jersey sends them a machine to evaluate. It's not clear from the letter Sequoia sent whether they intend to sue the professors or the state — presumably that ambiguity was deliberate on Sequoia's part. Put another clipping in your scrapbook of cases of companies invoking 'intellectual property rights' for bogus reasons." Sequoia seems to be claiming that no one can make a "report" regarding their "software" without their permission.
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Sequoia Threatens Over Voting Machine Evaluation

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  • by MrAtoz (58719) on Tuesday March 18, 2008 @04:00PM (#22787208)
    It was Union County, NJ that was planning to send sample machines to Dr. Felten. They were threatened by Sequoia and have backed down from their plan as a result. The whole thing happened because several counties in NJ reported errors with the Sequoia machines in the February primary election. Sequoia reviewed these and just said that it was "user error" and not a problem. The counties understandably didn't find this an acceptable response, and Union County wanted to get an outside opinion. All the details can be found in this NJ Star-Ledger story [nj.com].
  • by sm62704 (957197) on Tuesday March 18, 2008 @04:04PM (#22787256) Journal
    In other words, this is a scare tactic with nothing to back it up, pure and simple.

    I'm wondering "how thay can threaten their customer?" Who do they think they are, the RIAA and that New Jersey is a mom on food stamps?

    But perhaps they can. This cynical old man thinks there's a lot more here than meets the eye - Sequoia may surreptuously funnel cash to the campaigns of some of the high ranking New Jersey goons, er, excuse me, lawmakers/bureaucrats.

    But then I'm in Illinois where the last Democrat Governor [wikipedia.org] went to prison, and the last Republican Governor [wikipedia.org] then went to prison. I'm thinking if a Republican wins the next Governor election, Blago [wikipedia.org] will join Ryan in a cell.

    Rich powerful people don't play nice. You don't get to be a rich, powerful man by giving a rat's ass about anyone or anything except your money and power.

    -mcgrew

    (background on Illinois Politics): [wikipedia.org]

    Politics in the state, particularly Chicago machine politics, have been famous for highly visible corruption cases, as well as for crusading reformers such as governors Adlai Stevenson (D) and James Thompson (R). In 2006, former Governor George Ryan (R) was convicted of racketeering and bribery. In the late 20th century Congressman Dan Rostenkowski (Dem) was imprisoned for mail fraud; former governor and federal judge Otto Kerner, Jr. (D) was imprisoned for bribery; and State Auditor of Public Accounts (Comptroller) Orville Hodge (R) was imprisoned for embezzlement. In 1912 William Lorimer, the GOP boss of Chicago, was expelled from the U.S. Senate for bribery, and in 1921 Governor Len Small (R) was found to have defrauded the state of a million dollars.[58][27][15]
  • Re:History lesson (Score:5, Informative)

    by notthepainter (759494) <oblique@@@alum...mit...edu> on Tuesday March 18, 2008 @04:16PM (#22787384) Homepage
    The wiki page is pretty short on details.

    See http://www.constitution.org/mil/tn/batathen.htm [constitution.org]instead.

  • by RobBebop (947356) on Tuesday March 18, 2008 @04:26PM (#22787510) Homepage Journal

    I find it unconscionable that it is possible to patent or copyright something that is absolutely critical to the fundamental processes of democracy.

    Also unconscionable is the notion that the underlaying software algorithm would essencially boil down to a very simple statement that looks something like the following:

    vote++;

    You could argue that there is some finesse involved in getting that data from the machine it was cast at to the central tallying point where it is counted and tabulated, but NOTHING in that process is any more complicated than the Automated Teller Machines which function in a similar way to take data from client nodes and send it up to the hub... so "prior art" in the realm of basic concepts of networking makes those patents unattainable.

  • by Sir.Cracked (140212) on Tuesday March 18, 2008 @04:30PM (#22787576) Homepage
    The DMCA was passed in the House by voice vote, and the Senate by Unanimous Concent.

    See the "Major Actions" section of this address
    http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/bdquery/z?d105:HR02281:@@@L&summ2=m& [loc.gov]

    So, if your congresscritter was in office in 1998, you really have to assume he/she voted for it. I suppose you could troll the attendence logs for the day in question and see if they were absent, but I don't know how much that washes their hands. And potentialy, House reps may have voice voted against it, but it's unlikley.

    So, Pretty much any Senator/Rep who's been in office for more than 10 years is responsible.
  • Disappointing (Score:3, Informative)

    by bobdehnhardt (18286) on Tuesday March 18, 2008 @04:37PM (#22787656)
    This is just disappointing. I had Sequoia pegged as one of the good guys. When we selected them here in Nevada, they willingly submitted to every test, including review by the gaming board (who know a thing or two about fairness and anti-tampering in electronic devices - they have to certify all slot and video gaming machines). Sequoia passed the tests, including having a paper trail. That's not to say they're perfect or infallible, but they sure seemed cooperative and focused in the right direction.

    This just doesn't fit with their actions back then. Has there been a change in management?
  • Re:History lesson (Score:2, Informative)

    by ragerover (1155147) on Tuesday March 18, 2008 @05:03PM (#22787974)
    Or another, as some folks in New Mexico would point out: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tierra_Amarilla%2C_New_Mexico [wikipedia.org]
  • Re:handy though (Score:5, Informative)

    by Darinbob (1142669) on Tuesday March 18, 2008 @05:15PM (#22788130)

    If this gets thrown out? Surely no court could be so stupid to think that a third party's opinions of an available product can be stifled on the grounds of intellectual property laws. I can't think of anything even reasonably close to a valid excuse to allow it to go through.
    That's where "intellectual property" becomes such a vague and dubious notion. Consider if this were a medical device. If health risks were involved, could a company forbid the FDA from investigating the device because someone signed a licensing agreement? Or if the FDA has no interest, what about restriction a state board of health from investigating the device?

    In the past, less than one hundred years ago, it was extremely difficult to investigate dangerous products or workplaces. The government just didn't feel it was important enough to get involved in. There had to be major media effort to bring these problems to the public eye before there was enough pressure on the government to put pressure on companies. Such as hair products that could cause blindness and disfigurement, sometimes death (the reason that we have animal testing for cosmetics today). Companies didn't care if customer's were hurt, as long as they got their money first; but bad publicity made them at least pretend to care.

    Or the use of radium on watch dials; a company where the chemists would use lead shields to deal with radium would suggest to the factory workers that they could lick the brushes used to pain the dials. That took a media campaign to publicize slow painful deaths of young women before the public demanded change. It's interesting here that US Radium threatened to sue to prevent publication of a damning report, since the author had signed a confidentiality agreement (deja vu).

    But in this case, the danger is to elections, not someone's health. The question is whether this rises to the same level of concern. In the health cases, people had to die or become disfigured before the government and the public took any action. Do we have to wait for a stolen or hacked election before the people decide that the public's interests in this matter overrides intellection property? ("intellectual", hah, there's nothing so special about the technology here; shoddy hardware, shoddy software, slick marketting)

    I don't think a PR nightmare really applies. This kind of stuff rarely if ever hits mainstream media, and us geeks of Slashdot aren't really the type to buy into proprietary tools in general, let alone ones used for voting.
    But this needs to hid the mainstream media. Otherwise companies just go on with business as usual. Governments will never take any action unless they detect some sort of public outcry, especially in the modern climate where pro-active governments are frowned upon.
  • by Darinbob (1142669) on Tuesday March 18, 2008 @05:31PM (#22788338)

    If their contract declares as such then they are in the right.
    Not necessarily. A contract is not the totality of the law. Contracts can be found to be null and void.

    In this case, I'd say just basic consumer protection laws would apply. The consumer has the right to determine if the product they purchased does what it claims to do. No "contract" can forbid that. That'd be like an auto maker forbidding the customer in a signed sales agreement from looking under the hood to see if there's an engine present.

    I suspect the contract doesn't forbid verifying that the device performs as claimed, but that they disallow giving the device to a third party. Thus they may be relying on the elections board themselves, without the help of consultants, having enough technical knowledge to tell if the device meets their needs.

    But I do agree with you on the point that New Jersey should just ship the product back and say "this does not meet our needs at this time". Or if they want the money back, say "since we are forbidden from determining if the device is the same one as described in the contract, we have to declare the contract void, so kindly send us back our citizens' money."
  • by david_thornley (598059) on Tuesday March 18, 2008 @10:29PM (#22791222)

    I wouldn't trust one. Even if I had something that purported to be the source, how am I to know that that's exactly what was loaded into the machine? How am I to know that the combination of software and machine does something the software alone doesn't?

    The only solution is a paper trail. The voting machines used around here have paper ballots that are scanned for counting. Quick returns, and actually verifiable.

  • by Mr. Slippery (47854) <tms.infamous@net> on Wednesday March 19, 2008 @01:03AM (#22792148) Homepage

    where the last Democrat Governor...

    DemocratIC. "Democrat" is a noun. "Democratic" is an adjective or adverb.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 19, 2008 @02:10AM (#22792504)

    Many independent reviews have been successfully conducted within the framework of Sequoia's license rights
    It is hilarious that they attempt to masquerade as "successful reviews" studies that found abysmal problems in their products. For example, in the California Top-To-Bottom-Review (mentioned in their press release) university researchers examined the Sequoia machines in use in California, performed source code and red team analysis, identified a huge number of vulnerabilities (and plain bugs), and developed working exploits (even in the form of virus) capable of modifying the results of an election.
    The reports are publicly available: source code review [ca.gov], red team review [ca.gov].

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