Australia reverts to closed source

From: Charlie Strauss <cems_at_earthlink_dot_net>
Date: Wed Aug 04 2004 - 23:36:15 CDT

here is a article from slashdot. in it it is revealed
1) australia ACT's new voting systems contractor has decided to revert
the open souce code to closed source.
2) The Open Vote Foundation may get a boost of renewed activity in
developing open source voting for the US.

  Scott Ritchie ended up delivered an angry rebuttal to Friday's OSCON
presentation on the credibility of election software: What's strange is
that his rebuttal came in response to a talk he himself had just
delivered. Ritchie doesn't have a split personality, and wasn't simply
playing devil's advocate. He found himself, though, in the strange
situation of having agreed (as a last minute stand-in) to deliver a
presentation he hadn't yet had a chance to read, provided by Dr. Clive
Boughton of Australian software developer Software Improvement.
(Boughton is also a Computer Science lecturer at Australian National
University.) Between agreeing to fill in and arriving at the
conference, Ritchie found that Software Improvement was switching its
eVACS voting software from a Free, open source software license
(specifically, the GPL) to terms "even worse than that on MS's shared
source," and decided to do something about it. (Read more below.)

  From Diebold's last-minute installation of uncertified software
updates on its touch-screen election machines in California (leading to
decertification of the company's machines in several California
counties) to ethically troublesome relationships between politicians
and the companies whose machines count the votes that determine their
employment, the possible benefits of electronic voting seem swamped at
the moment by objections (from simply prudent to caustically cynical)
to its security and integrity.

  Within the world of electronic voting, though, eVACS (for "Electronic
Voting and Counting System") has been a rare success story both for
open source development methodology and for the benefits that
electronic voting can offer. The first generation of eVACS (running on
Debian Linux machines) was developed starting in March 2001 in response
to a request for bids by the Australian Capitol Territory Electoral
Commission (ACTEC), and it was done on a budget of only AUS$200,000.

  (The Australian Capitol Territory includes Australia's capitol city,
Canberra, as well as surrounding suburbs and Namadgi National Park.)

  Besides a respectable list of features driven by ACTEC's initial
requirements (like support for 12 voting languages, and audio support
for blind voters), eVACS has an advantage not enjoyed by many
electronic voting systems: it's been successfully, uneventfully used to
gather votes in a national election. The election in which it played a
part went smoothly, and the eVACS system itself functioned as hoped.

  This year, though, ACTEC asked Software Improvement to update the code
for future elections, and Software Improvement decided to go them one
better -- or, in the eyes of open source enthusiasts, one worse. The
notes Ritchie was provided to deliver announced a change to the process
under which the code is released; specifically, a switch from an open
source license to something the company calls "controlled open source."

  According to Software Improvement, simply releasing election-machine
code under a liberal license such as the GPL is undesirable for two
reasons: it means a loss of the company's intellectual property, and
unfettered access could lead to a compromise of the voting system, if a
determined cracker could find and exploit flaws in the code. (Software
Improvement has not supplied any examples to show that this has
happened, however.)

  The company's use of "open source" would find little support from
organizations like the Free Software Foundation or the Open Source
Initiative. Software Improvement's idea of software openness is rather
limited. Claiming that open source development is insufficient, even
inimical to creating trust in election systems, the company now says
that portions of eVACS's codebase will be released only to approved
analysts, and in encrypted form, to enable viewing only for auditing
purposes, rather than code contribution. Repeated viewings would be
reported to the company, and only a limited number of views would be
permitted before the code would self-destruct.

  After delivering the prepared presentation, Ritchie took a few minutes
to react to the changes it announced.

  "Six hours ago, while I was reading through this on the plane," said
Ritchie, "I was infuriated to read what it actually says."

  Ritchie, though, is a computer-literate political science student at
the University of California - Davis, and behind the Open Vote
Foundation. He said he's decided to resume the project represented on
that site, started with the intent to fork and bring to the U.S. the
first generation, GPL'd version of eVACS.

  "A long time ago, I read the first news report about Diebold, wondered
why we didn't have open source election software for our voting
machines. Eventually, I found out that Australia had apparently beaten
us to it. It seemed like a good thing; the eVACS system was developed
and released as GPL code, it was checked and rechecked by computer
science people and all kinds of election officials. I said, 'Why don't
we bring this to the U.S.? It's GPL, let's do it.'"

  So he started the nonprofit Open Vote Foundation to bring the software
to the U.S., specifically to California. Ritchie went to the meeting at
the California Attorney General's office which resulted in
decertification of Diebold machines in that state's 2004 election
process, and his involvement in the fight against Diebold's
secret-source voting machines is what led him to the open source eVACS;
now he finds that the restrictions on the formerly GPL software are
"even worse that that on MS's shared source. To call that open source
is a bit dishonest."

  "As of 6 hours ago," he said, "I've decided to start that again. It's
not that hard; I mean how hard is it to say 'add one to this vote'? ...
I remembered my old plan, and thought 'Let's take the old Australian
code, fork it, and work from that -- and that is still an option. This
is the great thing about open source software. If the old lead
developer goes insane, you can always fork it, right?"
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Received on Tue Aug 31 23:17:02 2004

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