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Sequoia Threatens Over Voting Machine Evaluation 221

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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  • Check, Meet Balance (Score:5, Interesting)

    by CheeseburgerBrown ( 553703 ) on Tuesday March 18, 2008 @03:35PM (#22786892) Homepage Journal
    A voting apparatus without a clear path for auditing of every system and sub-system is an invitation to corruption. Comparable mechanisms in governance have checks and balances to ensure fidelity.

    Why do these shifty porkchops think they ought to be exempt? Because it may make their investors nervous?

    This is definitely a situation where the bottom line should be drawn by logic, not by dollars.

  • by The Ancients ( 626689 ) on Tuesday March 18, 2008 @03:38PM (#22786928) Homepage

    ...have I got this straight?

    Their voting machines are paid for by public dollars, used by the majority of the members of the public, to elect public officials, and they claim evaluation of their software cannot occur without their "permission"?

    (Even my 9 year old nephew read this and thought it was "dumb")

  • History lesson (Score:5, Interesting)

    by i.r.id10t ( 595143 ) on Tuesday March 18, 2008 @03:40PM (#22786958)
    Mebbe they need a history lesson...

    Anyone care to guess when the last armed revolt against government was here in the US and the reasons behind it?

    Answer - Battle of Athens, Tenn. 1946. And it was over voting issues... []
  • by orclevegam ( 940336 ) on Tuesday March 18, 2008 @03:50PM (#22787082) Journal
    I for one say we need to amend the patent and copyright acts to make devices used to voting unpatentable, and exempt from copyright, or barring that, that the certification process requires all rights to be signed over to the government. These machines by their very nature should be open to the most detailed scrutiny imaginable by anyone who feels so inclined. If the companies want to make money on them sell maintenance and manufacturing contracts, but there should be no way to claim trade secrets on anything used for voting.
  • by Migraineman ( 632203 ) on Tuesday March 18, 2008 @03:57PM (#22787174)
    Lamp manufacturers pay UL for the privelege of being certified. UL doesn't randomly grab equipment and force a cert upon it. The voting machine manufacturers should be more than interested in having third-party audits of their equipment ... unless they are either crap or corrupt. I suspect the former, but the latter isn't too far behind.

    Regardless, I don't see how the manufacturer could impose restrictions on the equipment if it has been sold. Leased? Yeah, that'd come with a use restriction because title never was transferred.
  • by NeutronCowboy ( 896098 ) on Tuesday March 18, 2008 @04:04PM (#22787254)
    Someone mod this guy up. I find it unconscionable that it is possible to patent or copyright something that is absolutely critical to the fundamental processes of democracy. Sequoia might as well demand that they be made Emperors of America.
  • by falconwolf ( 725481 ) <falconsoaring_20 ... m ['hoo' in gap]> on Tuesday March 18, 2008 @04:07PM (#22787278)

    I am sure the state of New Jersey can tell Sequoia to accept this investigation or say good-bye to any certification. Sequoia is just making themselves look bad and like they have something to hide.

    I agree however New Jersey probably has already paid for the machines. I can't see Sequoia telling the state they can't test them, have them tested scientifically, if they haven't already been paid for. This case can however be used to show other potential buyers just how the company operates.

  • by jd ( 1658 ) <[imipak] [at] []> on Tuesday March 18, 2008 @04:09PM (#22787300) Homepage Journal
    The DMCA cripples reverse-engineering and software analysis. There was another "unified copyright" bill around the same time that forbid the review, or publication of any review, of software without the permission of the company selling it. Never heard if that made it into law. If it did, then yes, Felton's review would be illegal. If it didn't, but the review process would necessarily violate the DMCA, then it is also illegal.

    Is this stupid? Yes. Is this hostile to the interests of Americans? Yes. Was it voted for by a Congressman you have re-elected since? That I don't know, obviously, but it's something you may want to check on before this election. If you're not planning onvoting for whoever is currently elected, you might also want to find out the views of the opponents, particularly if the region is tech-savvy enough (or even tech-phobic enough) to be suspicious of voting machines. The candidate you're looking at might enjoy playing around with Sequoia's attitude problem as a (minor, to them) campaign issue.

  • Trivial Workaround (Score:3, Interesting)

    by sunderland56 ( 621843 ) on Tuesday March 18, 2008 @04:12PM (#22787324)
    The State of New Jersey just needs to hire Professors Felten and Appel as consultants. Nothing in the so-called "established Sequoia licensing Agreement for use of the voting system" can prevent a State employee from accessing a State machine.
  • by hattig ( 47930 ) on Tuesday March 18, 2008 @04:24PM (#22787494) Journal
    Well it has been several years of voting machine shenanigans, with each Slashdot topic resulting in posts saying that an open source solution is required.

    So, has it been done yet?

    Or is the problem one of it being rather impossible to create a completely secure voting application, however great the code is, however many security specialists have reviewed it?
  • Re:Sweet. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by l2718 ( 514756 ) on Tuesday March 18, 2008 @04:26PM (#22787522)
    Actually, threatening Felten with a lawsuit is quite effective. Now actual lawsuit needs to be filed. Since this would be consulting work, not research, he would not be covered by Princeton's Lawyers and will have to fend for himself, which is quite expensive -- so the threat of litigation might be enough to deter him. New Jersey, being a state, cannot be sued without its consent.
  • Re:handy though (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Firehed ( 942385 ) on Tuesday March 18, 2008 @04:28PM (#22787552) Homepage
    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. Perhaps they expect that it will come across as libelous (meaning a completely valid and accurate assessment that portrays them in a negative light - which just means that your company/product sucks), but the review would have to be out there first. I don't think a gag order can be issued in this kind of situation, and an NDA violation (assuming they ever held up in court, which is very rarely the case) hardly applies here.

    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.
  • by CastrTroy ( 595695 ) on Tuesday March 18, 2008 @04:43PM (#22787748) Homepage
    Or maybe they let somebody else vote for them [].
  • by harryHenderson ( 729254 ) on Tuesday March 18, 2008 @05:16PM (#22788148)
    If this is really just a contract matter... why can't NJ just breach the contract?
    I seem to remember that there is a breach of contract defense available when the contract violates public policy. Does NJ recognize this defense? Do the terms of this license agreement rise to the level of a public policy violation as recognized in the courts?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 18, 2008 @05:34PM (#22788376)
    Government bodies can take land by eminent domain when it is for the public good. Why can't they do that with IP?

    Eminent Domain can be used to seize "real property" (real estate, land buildings, etc) but cannot be used to seize "personal property" (vehicles, boats, aircraft, equipment, toys, IP -- yes, IP is considered to be a form of personal property). So sayeth the Constitution of the United States of America.

    What the State of NJ could do, however, is tax the holy fuck out of personal property. Since IP is "licensed", not sold, then the ownership of the IP contained by the machines remains personal property of the vendor, however since the machines are residing in NJ.... NJ could, if they were smart and vindictive, levy a specific and enormous tax against the intellectual property inside those machines. Plenty of precedent and case law exists for states levying personal property and use taxes upon out-of-state owners of stuff that is located or operated in their state, as is evidenced by Maine and Florida levying mind-boggling taxes on out-of-state owners of aircraft, boats and construction equipment that happened to spend some amount of time, sometimes as little as 24 hours, on Maine or Florida soil, but typically the amount of time must exceed 30 or 60 days depending on the state.

    Is NJ brilliantly evil enough to figure this one out? Well, the evil part, I'd say yes, but I have doubts about the brilliantly part.
  • by dbc ( 135354 ) on Tuesday March 18, 2008 @06:18PM (#22788892)
    Neveda Gaming Commission []

    I hear they are pretty good a doing hardware/software system audits and design reviews.

  • Re:handy though (Score:3, Interesting)

    by kesuki ( 321456 ) on Tuesday March 18, 2008 @06:47PM (#22789254) Journal
    Ironically, the US radium paint was toxic for 2 reasons. 1. radium 2. phosphorus most of the women died from the phosphorus poisoning that degraded away their bones, not from the radium poisoning. and you know what?
    in france, where radium was discovered, they used 'cotton swabs' to apply the paint rather than horsehair brushes. cotton swabs had no need to be licked (the horsehair brushes had to be licked ever 2-3 strokes)

    analysis of public voting machines will turn up ugly bugs like being able to report 100% of the district voting for one candidate, while 67% voted for the other. there are so many things that can go wrong with voting machine software, not to mention a lot of the machines are shipped by companies with strong political ties, who some argue 'rig' the firmwares results for specific elections. the latter is why I'd bet they don't want random voting machine testing. people finding 'bugs' for you will just cost a little programming work to debug it, the only reason i can see for them to sue, is if they really are rigging the elections for a price.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 19, 2008 @04:24AM (#22793016)
    Perhaps this was meant as a "Sarcastic" post.
    If there's any confusion let's clear it up now shall we.

    The Citizens of the United States no longer have the luxury of fucking around with these lies and propaganda anymore, everything is at stake since these electronic voting machines are the "spark of life" that was needed to begin the negative downward spiral of the destruction of the constitution, the corporate media [], the judicial, the executive, the senate, the economy and the delivery of the United States directly into the hands of fascism. [] All you need do is compare the Constitution before this administration to the constitution after this administration to understand what these oath of office breaking criminals are up to.

    Who ever marked this as funny might want to understand that "Election Technology Council" [] is made up of the manufactures of these fucked up machines. Which is the same as the fox guarding the hen house. It's very similar to the ACVR [] saying that there's voter fraud. (When in fact there wasn't and isn't) and that also the ACVR [] was only a fucking MAILBOX address, and that the damage they did exists to this very day as propaganda, misinformation, and lies. There's nothing funny here. These electronic vote tabulation devices, broken chain of custody, voter roll purging have cost our veterans their lives.

    Furthermore, out in California Secretary of State Debra Bowen's Top-To-Bottom (which truly was independent) review [] resulted in every machine being de-certified because they all failed miserably.

Behind every great computer sits a skinny little geek.