No-Confidence Votes

Copyrights vs. public debate


Electronic touchscreen voting was supposed to rescue us from the vagaries of butterfly ballots and dimpled chads, but e-voting is turning out to have its own share of problems. And far from displaying the openness that is the hallmark of a trustworthy election system, one of the leading e-voting companies, Diebold, is using copyright law against its critics.

Last summer a joint report from researchers at Rice and Johns Hopkins universities concluded that Diebold's software "is far below even the most minimal security standards applicable in other contexts." Other critics allege that upgrades to Diebold software used in the most recent California elections had not been independently certified (a violation of state law), and much has been made of an August fund-raising letter in which Diebold CEO Walden O'Dell told Buckeye State Republicans he was "committed to helping Ohio deliver its electoral votes to the president next year."

In August, when hackers leaked some 15,000 internal messages and memoranda detailing security flaws, written between January 1999 and March 2003, the company decided enough was enough. It launched a massive effort to prevent their dissemination, claiming that the student activists who have posted the documents to the Internet are committing a crime under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). For months, the company engaged in a legal game of cat and mouse with an ever-increasing number of university-based Web mirrors that have some protection from lawsuits under the DMCA's "safe harbor" for academic sites.

Diebold backed off only after the Electronic Frontier Foundation entered the fray, claiming use of the documents in public debate is protected "fair use" and that Diebold was abusing copyright law to stifle criticism.