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Wednesday
Mar042015

Top posts

Wednesday
Mar042015

Labour STILL claiming to "freeze" energy bills

Oh dear.

As fellow Guido readers will have known, Labour has been getting all hot and bothered over its promise to “freeze” energy bills.

Back in January the party quietly ditched its key pledge of freezing energy prices after realising the policy would actually leave customers paying more than they should, thanks to the falling price of oil.

“Rising star” Rachel Reeves was given short shrift after trying to claim it was a “cap”, not a freeze.

Following one gaffe with another, Labour was found to be using the term “freeze” once again last month.

This month, more of the same. The leaflet above was delivered today in a marginal seat with the number one pledge being to “Take immediate action to deal with the Tories’ cost-of-living crisis by freezing energy bills until 2017…”

Not content with only short-changing people on their gas and electricity bills, the leaflet also happily trots out another dodgy promise – to raise the minimum wage to £8 an hour by 2020. As a former Labour Cabinet minister pointed out in October, this would leave people worse off too as it should rise to £8.23 an hour by 2020.

As the leaflet proudly claims, “Every manifesto commitment is fully funded, all paid for without any additional borrowing”. Given Labour is intent on suppressing the minimum wage, at least this claim is true.

Tuesday
Jan272015

10 reasons online voting is a crap idea

This week the Digital Democracy Commission, established by House of Commons Speaker John Bercow, made the case for allowing electors to vote online at the 2020 general election.

Here's 10 reasons why online voting is a crap idea.

Experts say the technology for safe online voting does not exist

The UK Computing Research Committee (UKCRC) reckons so. “Currently, our view is that we do not yet have the technology to achieve fully usable and sufficiently secure electronic voting systems… we recommend that with current technology, online voting should not be used for statutory political elections at this time”.

As the technology doesn’t exist, our elections would be open to manipulation by, well, anyone

Most personal computers and smartphones are wide open to compromise by malicious software, with around 5% of PCs being infected with malware at any one time. So says the Foundation for Information Policy Research. “Once machines are compromised, their owners have little control over what their devices are doing on their behalf. Bulk access to compromised machines is bought and sold on the black market by spammers, bank fraud gangs and other wrongdoers (including nation state actors) who could easily use such capabilities to change the outcome of a close-fought UK election (or referendum) by producing a swing of a few per cent in key marginal constituencies.”

There would be no proof of outside influence

A 2007 paper by the Open Rights Group flagged this up. “Manipulating bits in a computer is much easier than copying paper ballots, so there is potential for undetectable vote manipulation on a scale never seen before: a hacker could hide a tiny piece of code in the voting software that could invisibly, but significantly, modify an election’s results. But putting aside undetectable hackers, vote stealing and other manipulations, we must also remember that these systems are built by ordinary, fallible people.”

Comparisons with online banking and other sensitive transactions are false

If someone hacks your personal online bank account, the banks will work on your behalf to prevent further fraud and ensure you get your money back. If your vote is hacked in an election, you don’t get your vote back – once the Returning Officer announces the result, that’s it.

Online voting would leave voters “wide open” to intimidation and coercion…

The biggest danger in this case would be pressure from family members, or others in the household, for someone to vote a particular way. Many of the same concerns surround our current system of postal voting on demand, which Richard Mawrey QC (who has acted as Election Commissioner in the High Court on a number of electoral fraud trials) argues is a gaping hole in our electoral system. Online voting would therefore provide a digitally-driven increase in fraud.

… not to mention bribery

“Voting from a private device in an unsupervised environment potentially enables vote buying and selling and coercion of voters, and provides no guarantee that the vote is provided by the claimed voter" argues the UKCRC. With the security of a secret ballot removed, people wanting to buy votes can do so and be sure they get their money’s worth. Widespread e-voting will therefore encourage people to attempt bribery.

It will undermine faith in democracy (especially when unexpected results occur)

Call it old-fashioned if you want, but perception is reality; most people have more faith in bundles of ballot papers counted by human beings sitting on tables in front of election observers. They will have far less faith in a digital system that an ordinary member of the public cannot see, let alone challenge.

There’s no evidence it would improve turnout

While it’s true that there’s been little research into this issue, the studies that have been done in Norway and in the UK have not shown that online voting improves turnout. The Open Rights Group highlight that the outcome in Norway was that “Internet voting is mostly used as a tool of convenience for individuals who have already decided to vote”, while in the UK turnout actually declined in a 2003 pilot.

Online voting is one data breach away from an expensive disaster

Investment in the systems and secure software needed to run free and fair elections would not be cheap. At all. In Norway, the final nail in the coffin for online voting came in 2013 when a coding error resulted in the potential loss of vote privacy for approximately 29,000 voters (see Open Rights Group paper). Such a breach in the UK would undoubtedly result in intense political pressure to abandon online voting and return to traditional methods.

Online voting would be a triumph of ignorance over expertise

The really frustrating thing about Speaker Bercow’s Commission concluding that we should embrace online voting by the 2020 election is that ALL OF THE ABOVE was presented as evidence to that very Commission. Here’s how Ian Brown (Professor of Information Security and Privacy, Oxford) and Ross Anderson (Professor of Security Engineering, Cambridge) concluded their evidence to the Commission:

It is ignorance that leads people to suppose that e-voting is risk-free and desirable; and it is technical experts such as us (and our colleagues whose carefully-argued papers we have cited) who are cautioning against embracing e-voting for the foreseeable future.

Anyone who reads that from a bunch of security experts and still thinks online voting is a good idea needs their head checking.