[E-voting] FLA Judge - source code of breathalyzer should be inspected; what about voting machines?

Catherine Ansbro cansbro at eircom.net
Sun Nov 6 11:09:12 GMT 2005

By John Gideon Information Manager, VotersUnite.Org and VoteTrustUSA.Org
05 November 2005

This week a panel of three judges in Sarasota County, Florida found that 
a breathalyzer manufacturer, CMI Inc., must turn over its source code to 
an expert hired by defendants in drunk driving cases. The expert would 
only be allowed to inspect the code for bugs and he would be under court 
orders not to divulge any of the code to the public. The manufacturer of 
the breathalyzer has refused to allow its source code to be reviewed.

In an article in "News Forge" 
(http://trends.newsforge.com/trends/05/11/04/2053208.shtml?tid=147) Bill 
Scofield, manager of engineering for CMI Inc., the company who makes the 
subject breathalyzer, is quoted as stating, "It's a trade secret. There 
is no reason to release the source code because there are other ways to 
test its effectiveness." However no other means of testing the source 
code were offered by CMI.

So, if it is important that the source code used in breathalyzers should 
be made available for inspection by experts, why shouldn't the same be 
true for voting machine source code?

In the NewsForge article, Matt Zimmerman, a staff attorney for the 
Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), said it is just as important for 
people to know that products like breathalyzers or voting machines work 
correctly as it is for companies to protect their trade secrets.

The article goes on to quote Mr. Zimmerman, "It's one of the few cases 
that we've seen recently where a court has come out and said it really 
is appropriate, if you're going to be making important decisions that 
affect someone's liberty, then you should be able to understand what's 
going on with these technologies that are helping make these decisions."

The article continues, "He said that in addition to various fears over 
losing proprietary advantages, companies may also fear that public 
examination of software would let the public know "there may be some 
flaws in the design, in the coding, that otherwise they wouldn't have to 

""The government is outsourcing a governmental process," Zimmerman said 
of both e-voting and the breathalyzer questions. "It's not a case where 
you're alleging that a certain harm has been done to a specific person. 
You're making the allegation that the technology doesn't do its work 
quite as well as it could."

"The key to both concerns is the potential for these devices to affect 
people's liberty and freedom, while the manufacturers do not provide the 
public with the information to know what is going on, Zimmerman said. 
Both cases, he said, should tell the government that the public has a 
right to know how technologies actually work when they have to do with 
individual liberty.

"Although the e-voting issue, and potentially the breathalyzer issue, 
have the potential to become political issues because of the implication 
that government is trying to cover something up or at least not pursue 
answers vigorously enough, each is a matter of protecting citizens 
rights -- which in itself can be a political issue."

In response to a question about whether this court ruling was something 
that could be used in his lawsuit, Paul Lehto, who has sued Sequoia 
Elections and Snohomish County, WA.,( 
http://www.bradblog.com/archives/00001319.htm) responded, "This Florida 
ruling is a common sense application of the right of citizens to 
confront their accusers and cross examine evidence used against them, 
based on longstanding bedrock principles of due process fairness and the 
Courts' truth-seeking function. With regard to secret vote counting on 
corporate hard drives, it is already the case that secret vote counting 
is grossly illegal and unconstitutional (without any court needing to 
rule) but unfortunately some people and voting machine vendors in 
particular will persist until they are ordered by Courts to back off. 
It's not a close question, though, nor a novel principle of law."

Transparency is important otherwise we will never know for sure how our 
votes were counted or whether they were really counted at all. And if, 
like CMI, voting machine vendors refuse to reveal their source code for 
inspection by our experts then they should not be allowed to use their 
machines to count our votes.
Information Manager, VotersUnite.org
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