Connected Democracy: The Power of a Networked Citizenry


If you've been following the story about Diebold suing people who'd posted information to the Net about flaws in Diebold's electronic voting machines, then you'll be interested to know that Diebold said yesterday that they were not going to pursue legal action. They also said they were retracting demands that ISPs remove the documents from Web sites. Naturally, you won't find any mention of this on Diebold's site.

The lawsuits caused a firestorm of protest and led to charges that Diebold was using copyright law to stifle important debate.

In October, the Online Policy Group and two Swarthmore students filed for the court order to prevent Diebold from issuing further legal threats, aided by the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Center for Internet and Society Cyberlaw Clinic at Stanford Law School.

They charged Diebold with misusing the DMCA to stifle discussion about the reliability of electronic voting machines in general and about the insecurity of the company's machines in particular.

The Diebold e-mails consisted of internal correspondence sent by company employees to several staff mailing lists related to bug fixes, technical support and company announcements.

They detailed information about the internal workings of the electronic voting machine maker and pointed to difficulties with the company's machines cited by employees and election officials.

Among revelations contained in the memos was information that the Microsoft Access database used by the Diebold system to collect and calculate votes was not protected by a password. This meant someone could alter votes by entering the database through physical access to the machine or remotely using the phone system.

The memos also revealed that the audit log, which records any activity in the Access database, could be easily altered so that an intruder could erase a record of the intrusion.

From Wired News: Diebold Backs Off Legal Challenge
Referenced Tue Dec 02 2003 10:04:37 GMT-0700

Maybe I'm jumping to conclusions, but from my standpoint this case is pretty clear evidence that a internetworked citizenry is able to have a significant impact on important matters and drive public discourse. Its hard to imagine this playing out the same way 20 years ago. In 1983, their wouldn't have been any internal emails, just paper memos that are much easier to contain. There wouldn't have been anywhere to put them where thousands of people could see them. They would have been delivered to a few reporters and might have become a story, but not likely one with much teeth due to the distributed nature of voting oversight in the US. In the end Diebold would have just built their voting machines and we'd have had to live with them.

In 2003, corporations are much more transparent and getting more so every day (see If You're Going to be Naked, You'd Better Be Buff). The network and the presence of thousands of independent voices in blogs, emails, and newsgroups can exert substantial pressure on organizations--especially around topics as important as voting. I don't think Diebold realized the buzz-saw they were walking into. Of course what do you expect from a company that thinks high-tech is Microsoft Access databases and phone lines? There's a Cluetrain tie-in here.