The Volokh Conspiracy

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Sometimes the Conspiracy Theorists Might Have Something of a Point: The Konnech Controversy

"District Attorney investigators found that in contradiction to the contract, information was stored on servers in the People's Republic of China."


[UPDATE Nov. 21, 2022: The D.A.'s office dropped the charges earlier in November.]

[FURTHER UPDATE Jan. 27, 2024: L.A. County has agreed to pay Yu and Konnech $5 million to settle a lawsuit arising out of the prosecution.]

[1.] From the N.Y. Times Monday:

At an invitation-only conference in August at a secret location southeast of Phoenix, a group of election deniers unspooled a new conspiracy theory about the 2020 presidential outcome.

Using threadbare evidence, or none at all, the group suggested that a small American election software company, Konnech, had secret ties to the Chinese Communist Party and had given the Chinese government backdoor access to personal data about two million poll workers in the United States, according to online accounts from several people at the conference.

In the ensuing weeks, the conspiracy theory grew as it shot around the internet. To believers, the claims showed how China had gained near complete control of America's elections. Some shared LinkedIn pages for Konnech employees who have Chinese backgrounds and sent threatening emails to the company and its chief executive, who was born in China….

Unlike other election technology companies targeted by election deniers, Konnech, a company based in Michigan with 21 employees in the United States and six in Australia, has nothing to do with collecting, counting or reporting ballots in American elections. Instead, it helps clients like Los Angeles County and Allen County, Ind., with basic election logistics, such as scheduling poll workers.

Konnech said none of the accusations were true. It said that all the data for its American customers were stored on servers in the United States and that it had no ties to the Chinese government….

[2.] From the L.A. County D.A. Tuesday:

Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón announced today that an executive with a Michigan-based company responsible for the software used in managing Los Angeles County election poll workers has been arrested as part of an investigation into the possible theft of personal identifying information of those workers….

District Attorney investigators found that in contradiction to the contract, information was stored on servers in the People's Republic of China.

And more:

This investigation is concerned solely with the personal identifying information of election workers.  In this case, the alleged conduct had no impact on the tabulation of votes and did not alter election results. But security in all aspects of any election is essential so that we all have full faith in the integrity of the election process."

Earlier today, Konnech Corporation Chief Executive Officer Eugene Yu was taken into custody on suspicion of theft of personal identifying information by investigators from the District Attorney's Office Bureau of Investigation with assistance from the Meridian Township Police Department in Michigan. In addition, hard drives and other digital evidence were seized by LADA investigators.

The District Attorney's Office is seeking Yu's extradition to Los Angeles.

Konnech distributes and sells its proprietary PollChief software, which is an election worker management system that was utilized by the county in the last California election. The software assists with poll worker assignments, communications and payroll. PollChief requires that workers submit personal identifying information, which is retained by the Konnech.

Under its $2.9 million, five-year contract with the county, Konnech was supposed to securely maintain the data and that only United States citizens and permanent residents have access to it….

The East Lansing Police Department and Ingham County Sheriff's Office in Michigan also assisted in the investigation.

Now I don't want to excessively fault the Times or its reporter for the original story; it may have been the best interpretation of the evidence that they had at the time, and even if they erred in analyzing the evidence, everyone makes mistakes. I surely have.

Still, it's worth noting when such situations unfold, as a reminder to be a bit more skeptical all around, both of those who allege conspiracy and of those who deny it.


[3.] From the Complaint filed Sept. 12 in Konnech Inc. v. True the Vote Inc.:

All of Konnech's U.S. customer data is secured and stored exclusively on protected computers located within the United States….

On the strength of various of the unauthorized computer access allegations in that Complaint, Konnech got a temporary restraining order that day related to that access (including forbidding such access and barring the distribution of material gotten through such access); Konnech also has a defamation claim in its Complaint, but that wasn't the basis of the TRO. Query what effect the prosecution will have on Konnech's lawsuit; to be sure, even if Konnech's executive violated the law, this wouldn't justify unauthorized access by True the Vote to Konnech's computers (if such access indeed took place), but if it indeed misstated the facts in its Complaint, that surely won't look good for it.

If you want to see the parties' sides of the story, here's Konnech's (filed before the criminal charges were announced) and here's True the Vote's. There's also more, related to Konnech's attempt to hold True the Vote in contempt for allegedly violating the TRO; much of that is available here.