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Diebold Retracts Legal Threats Over Voting Machine Flaws

Diebold Retracts Legal Threats Over Voting Machine Flaws

Diebold Elections Systems spokesperson David Bear told TechNewsWorld that the company simply "chose not to pursue legal action" that was based on copyright protection and the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA).

By Jay Lyman
12/02/03 10:29 AM PT

Despite holding the threat of legal action over college students and ISPs involved in publishing information about flaws in its electronic voting systems, Diebold has now retracted its threats and is looking to settle a suit brought against the company by those it threatened.

North Canton, Ohio-based Diebold agreed in federal court not to sue or send any further legal threats to anyone who publishes an embarrassing corporate e-mail archive that highlights flaws in Diebold's voting machines and irregularities with certifying the systems for use in elections.

Diebold, which is still negotiating a settlement with the Electronic Frontier Foundation and other groups suing on behalf of the recipients of the threats, also agreed to send out retractions of its earlier legal threats to the ISPs who received them.

"We're pleased that Diebold has retreated and the public is now free to continue its interrupted conversation over the accuracy of electronic voting machines," said EFF staff attorney Wendy Seltzer. "We continue to seek a court order to protect posters, linkers and the ISPs who host them."

Poking Holes and Publishing

The case arose after voting activist and author Bev Harris published information from thousands of intercepted, internal Diebold e-mails and documents on her Web site, which resulted in subsequent republication on the Internet by others.

Swarthmore College students Nelson Pavlosky and Luke Smith were among those who published the Diebold e-mail archive, which contains descriptions of flaws in Diebold's electronic voting machines written by the company's own employees, according to the EFF.

"Diebold threatened not only the ISPs of direct publishers of the corporate documents, but also the ISPs of those who merely publish links to the documents," the EFF said.

Info out There

Diebold Elections Systems spokesperson David Bear told TechNewsWorld that the company simply "chose not to pursue legal action" that was based on copyright protection and the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA).

"The information has been widely disseminated," Bear said. "As a result of that and the time in pursuing enforcement of copyrights, we decided it's not in our best interest to do that."

The EFF, joined by the Center for Internet and Society Cyberlaw Clinic at Stanford Law School, said they took on the case "to prevent abusive copyright claims from silencing public debate about voting, the very foundation of our democratic process."

E-Voting in Action

As a result of information divulged in the e-mail archive, Diebold has been criticized and is now being forced by California to audit its systems in the state because of prior knowledge of security issues and possibly installing uncertified software in violation of election law.

However, Diebold's Bear said the company views the successful use of its systems in Maryland as "the only true third-party review of any system." Nevertheless, Maryland is among states in which the company e-mail archive indicates Diebold officials knew of flaws yet shipped systems anyway.

While Bear said Diebold hopes to settle the suit with the students, the EFF still wants U.S. District Court Judge Jeremy Fogel to rule that the Internet posting of the e-mails was not a copyright violation as well as award damages to the individuals and companies Diebold threatened.

The case was ordered to mediation with motions due in January and a hearing scheduled for February 9th.

Security and Technology

International Foundation for Elections Systems executive vice president Paul DeGregorio told TechNewsWorld that security is always the primary issue for electronic voting.

Recently nominated by President Bush to sit on a new U.S. elections commission, DeGregorio said the Diebold controversy and other recent voting security debates will help validate electronic voting by forcing vendors to defend and improve their products.

"There have always been charges of fraud in election processes," he said. "What's new is we're using different technology now and I think it just raises different kinds of issues."


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