Waives 'Proprietary Rights' to Public Voting Data Files...Though Reserves the Right to 'Manipulate the Data' Before Release!
PLUS: CEO Swidarski Works the AP PR Rope Line and Suggests Diebold's Election Division May Be For Sale, While Both AP and 'USA Today' Get the Story Wrong --- Again --- in Their Continuing Efforts on Behalf of America's Electronic Voting Machine Companies...
By Brad Friedman on 2/7/2006, 2:47pm PT  

Good news (perhaps) regarding our previous story on Diebold's refusal to allow the voters of Alaska to look at their own voting data since the Electronic Voting Machine vendor claimed the file format of their GEMS tabulation software was a "company secret" in their contract with the state.

But now, according to a letter from Alaska's Election Officials, published at BlackBoxVoting.org from Alaska's election authorities, "Diebold has agreed to waive its proprietary rights to the GEMS database files."

That apparent capitulation by the Voting Machine Company may set a precedent with wider implications for other states and counties seeking access to such data and other forms of transparency in public elections. See the BBV link above for more thoughts on some of the possibilities.

That said, there is still reason to be cautious about this news for a number of reasons. Note the following --- almost incredible wording --- from the published letter [emphasis ours]...

Diebold has agreed to waive its proprietary rights to the GEMS database files...However, Diebold cautioned that there is sensitive information found in these files, including encrypted passwords, user ID's, as well as the phone number used to modem in results...Therefore, in order to provide you the specific information you are seeking and in the specific form requested, the Division is looking into the feasibility of changing the encrypted information as well as changing the modem number for future elections...To this end, we are consulting with the Enterprise Technology Systems in the Department of Administration as well as Diebold on this issue...please be advised that the Division will charge for its costs incurred in manipulating the data to provide the records you seek."

First, the easy one... Alaska admits that they "modem in results"? But didn't Diebold spokesman David Bear tell us that wasn't possible, just a few months ago? Well, of course he did...but as we knew at the time, he just was lying kidding about that, as we reported back in October:

In regards to possible remote access to the GEMS Central Tabulator by modem via phone lines, a way that hackers could easily and simply change the vote total information in the Access database, Diebold's official spokesman seemed to be similarly in denial even today.

When we asked Bear whether or not the Central Tabulator is still accessible via modem in their machines, he first denied that it's even possible, telling us "the Central Tabulator isn't accessable via modem."

When we pressed about whether or not there are still modem capabilities in the machines and software they sell, Bear admitted, "There is a modem capability, but it's up to a jurisdiction whether they wish to use it or not...I don't know of any jurisdiction that does that."

"Oh, boy. Such lies," DIEB-THROAT said in response.

Perhaps Bear thought he was talking to AP or any of the other myriad Mainstream Media outlets who are all too willing to simply retype whatever Diebold spokespeople tell them without question (see more on AP at the bottom of this article!)

More troubling, however, is the admission that the data may be "manipulated" in consultation with Diebold before it's released. Such a "manipulation of data" would seem to defeat the entire purpose of looking at the data files in the first place to help discover why Alaska's November 2004 election results reportedly show some cases of more than 200% voter turnout and other such anomalies.

As mentioned, Alaska can simply change the phone numbers used for their modem transfer of data in the future for "safety". Better yet, they can stop using such unsecure methods of transferring such sensitive data in the first place! But as to "changing the encrypted information," perhaps it's just us, but isn't the whole point of encrypting information to safeguard against the unauthorized viewing and/or manipulation of that information?

In other words, if the encryption Diebold uses is worth a damn, it shouldn't really matter who looks at it because it'll simply be a series of unreadable alpha-numeric characters with no meaning to anyone who doesn't have the "keys" to decode the encrypted information.

Further, whatever that information is (passwords, etc.) should be changed for future elections anyway, so what's the concern here? Could it be that they don't want anyone to see that their encryption technology isn't worth a damn? Or is it simply that Diebold would like the right to "fix" the actual data in those files before they are released to the public?

Either way, though the news would seem to be a bit of a victory for the forces of Election Transparency, there is reason to be wary.

* * *

UPDATE 2/24/06: More on Diebold below, but we've got an update now on the specific Alaska situation discussed above. The state has now now renegged on delivery of the Diebold data files from 2004 citing "security concerns". Seriously. Details now here...

* * *

Given this latest apparent reversal by Diebold, perhaps it's a sign that the company is finally beginning to feel the sting of being seen as Republican Party-sponsored democracy-haters with much dirt to hide isn't real good for their bottom line.

A softsoap "interview" yesterday with new Diebold CEO Tom Swidarski is just out from AP, suggesting that the beleaguered company is back on the PR offensive of late to combat the relentless bad press they've been (deservedly) getting. AP's short puff-piece seems to signal: 1) the need to get comment from opposing voices under the phoney-baloney guise of journalistic "balance" only applies to one side of America's political divide and 2) Swidarski seems to drop a few hints that the company may be willing to unload their Elections Division which has been dragging the once-respected company down into the toilet for years now. Of course, first they'd have to find someone willing to buy it --- along with the mountain of legal liabilities that come with it.

(UPDATE: AP has now reissued the above mentioned story with a refocused lede and headline, which is now "Diebold chief says fate of e-voting unit under review")

And in yet another blowjob for the Electronic Voting Machine Industry, both AP and USA Today ran stories yesterday based on a new study by the pro-machine folks at Election Data Services on the number of jurisdictions moving to new electronic machinery in 2006.

Both stories illustrate how the Mainstream Media is still not "getting it". Both are nifty piece of pre-emptive pro-electronic voting machine propoganda as forwarded by the new study from Election Data Services.

USA Today lubes us up about the "glitches" and "hiccups" America should expect in 2006 as some 30 million citizens will be casting their votes on new electronic machines. They do a fine job of minimizing the mountain of electronic "irregularities" that we will be seeing in '06, so that when they come, we'll know they're just theh "glitches" and "hiccups" that come with any new technology --- nothing to be concerned about.

While both stories use sources who are almost exclusively "pro-machine" --- AP quotes only from Election Data Service spokesperson Kimball Brace, USA Today quotes from Brace, Maryland's pro-Diebold Election Supervisor, Linda Lamone and Doug Lewis of pro-machine ElectionCenter.org --- it's the following out-and-out misinformation from the AP story by Robert Tanner that really gets our goat [emphasis, once again, ours]:

The changes have created new controversies, especially with accusations that touchscreen-style machines are vulnerable to manipulation. In response, 25 states have passed laws requiring election administrators to use machines that allow voters to verify their vote has been accurately counted, and that create paper receipts for a recount.

No, Mr. Tanner, 25 states have NOT "passed laws requiring...machines that allow voters to verify their vote has been accurately counted!"

The states in question may now require that the new machines create "paper receipts", but there is nothing in any of those laws that require the states actually count those "paper receipts" as far as we know!

So there is no way that voters can have any flippin' clue whether "their vote has been accurately counted" or not despite Tanner's report. But kudos to the Electronic Voting Industry for their tenacity in exploiting the laziness of the MSM to give American voters that incredibly false sense of security that some kind of paper printout means their votes will actually be counted the same way they are printed --- or even counted at all for that matter!

Why is it that a two-bit Internet blog site like The BRAD BLOG run largely by one guy in a smoky little office is able to get the story right so consistently, and frequently so much earlier than huge outlets like AP and USA Today with all of their enormous resources across the globe? Is it because the MSM is lazy? Because they don't give a damn about the truth? Or are they just in the tank with the forces of evil?

We're just asking.