Re: Ms. Tobi's overheated rhetoric

From: Alan Dechert <dechert_at_gmail_dot_com>
Date: Sat Nov 03 2007 - 14:38:23 CDT


> > When you say all the experts want the technology
> > to be open, I have to say that people in the public
> > policy arena don't really know that.
> >
> I assume you are not talking about yourself, ...
Correct. I am talking about advocates and decision makers.

> ... since you of
> all people know how many of the prominent technologists
> in this field have called for at least disclosed source, and
> have fought long battles over NDAs and proprietary
> restrictions on technical information about voting systems.
Yes, I know that. BTW, I used this line in our script for our mock trial on
OCT 30, directed at "Mr. Sequoia":

     "But every computer security expert says that you can't
     make a system secure by hiding your code."

However, I have to continually deal with statements that confuse the
non-experts ... like when Avi says, "open source is not a panacea... " (one
of numerous examples where he says this ) or when Barbara
Simons says, " ... open source code can contain bugs, and there is at least
a small chance that it also could contain malicious code. There is also the
problem of guaranteeing that the software running on the voting machine is
identical to the software that is supposed to be running on the machine...."
( )
As true as these comments are, they are not helpful. We already know these
things. The problem is that non-experts take these statements and use them
to demonstrate that experts are not in favor of open technology.

Someone once took an innocent-sounding comment from Doug Jones to prove that
experts oppose open source for voting. I spent a whole afternoon debunking
that in a long thread. It helped my case that Doug Jones was a founder of
OVC -- something the writer didn't know, apparently.

> It is conceivable, I suppose, that some people in this
> community don't know that. ...
It's more than conceivable. It's a very widespread misconception.... or
non-conception. Many decision makers simply have no idea what we're talking
about -- likewise with voting reform advocates (who are not necessarily open
voting advocates).

One of the members of the NYS Board of Elections is a 77 year old florist.
We need her vote to get the examination fee waiver. I could call her and
tell her that all the experts want the technology to be open, but I don't
think it would be compelling (and she would likely find a call from me

The task for me and other advocates of open voting is largely educational.
The educational materials have quite a few chapters, while security by
obscurity seems to be the most important. It's a difficult concept for
people. They think opening the system means no security. For every Rush
Holt, there are thousands of decision makers like our NYS Board commissioner
that lack comprehension of the technical issues involved. A lot of experts
don't have the patience to deal with people like this. But it is absolutely
necessary, since these are the people running the world.

BTW, I just found a nice letter that includes a section on "Why Security
Through Obscurity is Not Appropriate for Voting Systems."

I'm not so sure our 77 yr old florist would follow it. Given the source,
she would probably dismiss it.

> Do you, Alan, defend Ms. Tobi's statements?
I'll let Ms. Tobi defend herself. She is quite capable. Not everything she
says is perfectly accurate, but then a lot of people say things that are not
perfectly accurate.

> > Here's an idea: How about we draft something that says
> > all the experts want the technology to be open and get all
> > the experts to sign it so those of us in the public policy
> > arena can use that. For example, right now (as in TODAY),
> > we want people to weigh in on the side of an examination
> > fee waiver for open source in NY. If we had such a
> > statement, we could attach it to a comment sent to the NYS
> > Board of Elections.
> >
> >
> >,1,35_26319:35_26327&_dad=portal&_schema=PORTAL#HAVAPC
> >
> > Can you help with that, David?
> >
> I can't do that, although I wish you luck in this endeavor.
> I cannot endorse candidates, or bills, or sign petitions, speak
> to partisan audiences, join advocacy groups, speak to the
> press on the record, or do anything else that makes it easy to
> label me as "having an agenda".
I don't think I am asking you to do any of these things. Let me refine my
request slightly. I would like a "To Whom it May Concern" letter. It would
not be designed to address any particular bill, petition, candidate postion,
or anything like that. It would simply be a statement that you believe all
the experts want the technology open. Since you've already stated that in a
public forum, I don't really need you to say much else unless you what to do
that. I guess mainly I would like your blessing so we can get other
"experts" you know to sign the letter.

> That is why I can't help -- not
> because I don't support waiving examination fees for open
> source systems (sounds reasonable), but because I have to
> stay at arm's length from policy advocacy unless asked by officials.
I think I understand your position. However, I also think you could do this
because it's not really policy advocacy. It may seem like that because of
the context in which I asked you to do this, but you don't need to include
anything about that in the letter. The statement can stand on its own.

Alan D.

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Received on Fri Nov 30 23:17:08 2007

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