Hacking the Nedap – the aftermath

It’s been all over the net: we hacked our voting machine. The precise machine that 90% of The Netherlands votes on has been hacked. If you read our report and documentation, you’ll see we didn’t just scratch the surface, but we dug in deep and we feel we proved beyond any doubt that this machine is not fit to be used in any election that deserves to be called democratic. The Nedap ES3B system is a DRE-style electronic voting systems. DREs are the ones that don’t leave any tangible trace of a vote and whose software just needs to be blindly trusted. Usually, such as is the case here in The Netherlands, a voting population has to provide this trust without being granted any information about how they work.

On October 4th, we’ve been on a national news documentary program that brought the first results, showing how easy it is to rig a vote once you have access to the machines. This was brought together with a news report detailing how easy it was to get surreptitious access to 400 of these machines, the ones that serve the entire city of Rotterdam. Then the next morning we hosted a press conference at which the entire national and international press-corps sat open-mouthed as we told the story of the deficiencies at various levels of the election process here in the Netherlands.

The aftermath is truly strange. On the good side there’s the reaction in Ireland, where large-scale media-coverage of our findings seems to have killed any last remaining hope for a slightly modified version of this silly machine to ever be used in any Irish elections. And in Germany people seem to be using our research productively to make sure Nedap and others do not expeand their black-box voting business over there. Over here in The Netherlands however, politicians and journalists seem to be ignoring any of the real scandals, focussing instead on the terrible fact that hackers were able to get such easy access to a voting machine.
Someting of this nature was to be expected with the elections this close. When we started this campaign, everybody expected elections to happen in March 2006 (provincial parliament) and May 2007 (national parliament). Then our government fell, and now national parliamentary elections happen on the 22nd of November 2006. Given such time pressure, it is simply much more comfortable for all involved to continue believing that the e-Voting emperor is wonderfully dressed. The simple and provable fact that our electronic voting procedures and technology are both deeply and irrepairably flawed is just a little too painful. Even – or make that especially – political parties whose voters would care about these issues have to walk a thin line to make sure they do not disenfranchise the very voters they depend on this November.
Nedap and the Dutch interior ministry have essentially reacted to the Nedap ES3B machine being proven ridiculously insecure by saying they are happy we care so much about the election process (which we suspect is a lie), by claiming that the machines we used are not the current ones (which we know is a lie) and by making unspecified promises of placing seals on them and guarding them a little better (which we can prove is insufficient and doesn’t address any of the real problems). Issues of placing our democracy in the hands of a few companies that do not want to tell us what they are doing remain unaddressed. If we leave it up to the people we elected to safeguard our democracy, these issues will be silently buried over the course of the coming week.

This is not something we plan to let happen though: we’re not done yet. We’re fully prepared to take the Dutch state to court and we will campaign to bring many people to vote in the last villages where this November’s elections are done on good old paper. It will be a bit of a hassle to get the paperwork needed to vote outside of our own municipalities. But hey, throughout history people have made much larger sacrifices to be able to vote in an honest election.

If you want to stay up-to-date on our voting stuff, check out the english pages of our campaign, which include a box to fill out your e-mail address to be added to our (low-traffic) announcement list.

Returning to normal?

If the latest election results are any measure, The Netherlands may be past at least one peak in political madness. In this week’s local elections, the ugly coalition of conventional right-wingers and christian-democrats lost lots of support, as did many of the right-wing local ‘Leefbaar’ parties that had come to power over the past years. Clear winners were the socialists, as well as the British-Labour-Party-like fake socialists.

For the current government-by-fear trend to continue, this country will need a major terrorist attack in the next year.

Kick ’em when they’re down

Drats… Just as I was enjoying the afterglow of a nice party, the cops have to mess it up.

Amsterdam used to be a relatively nice place if you have no roof over your head. Here the state will pay social security in cash to those that have no bank account and no fixed address. So if you are homeless and lucky enough to still receive a bit of social security money (if you’re down and out it’s very easy for the burocrats to find some rule you broke and stop the payments), you could at least get by.
The cops have now taken it upon themselves to inspect everyone that walks out of the payment office on payday to see if they have any outstanding fines or anything else that might be interesting to them.


Speed …

Some days the speed with which this country is going to hell is astounding even professional pessimists like me. Today I read that the police has requested the complete logs for a website covering the (still unsolved) murder of a political activist that investigated police practices. I also noticed that the christian democrats have taken it upon themselves to get squatting completely outlawed, for which there is now apparently a majority in parliament. And in Amsterdam the responsible alderman wants to extend the areas where ‘preventive searching’ is allowed.

For those not up to date on 21st century police-state euphemisms: ‘preventive searching’ is where anyone can be stopped and have their person and belongings searched by the police without the need for any kind of warrant or suspicion. The preferred new policy would be (surprise) to allow this in the entire city instead of just in known trouble spots.

And I haven’t even finished reading today’s news yet. (Hmmm maybe I shouldn’t).

And from today’s newspapers…

There’s criticism here in The Netherlands because most municipalities haven’t begun to plan the mandatory “naturalization ceremonies”. As of this month, if you become Dutch they cannot just give you your passport anymore. Instead they must accompany it with some american-styled ‘pledge of allegiance’ ceremony. Why can’t people accept that countries and religions are stupid?

And every other political debate here seems to be about sticking some undesirable fraction of the population in boot camps, including some great success stories about some fascist indoctrination method from the US. I was a jobless high-school dropout once. Scary to think that if I was 20 today, I would be sent to boot camp…

Historical precedence

Most people don’t know their history. And even if they know the basic facts, they may not truly grasp the extent to which humans have stayed the same throughout the ages. Hence when something happens in the world, large crowds jump up and down, claiming this or that development is totally new. People that do know about history usually yawn at such enthusiasm. They know that the world is a pretty big place and that humans have been building societies for a pretty long time. In some circles, merely to claim some development is without precedent can be enough to be labeled as thoroughly unsophisticated.

And yet I still believe the extent to which governments will soon be able to snoop on their citizens is unprecedented.

The 20th century saw a few attempts at creating the all-seeing state. The former DDR, the former USSR: they’ve tried to see what every citizen is doing, sometimes at a level of detail that makes us laugh when we read accounts of their efforts. The cost and labour involved in such an effort made it not worthwhile for anything but the most determined police states, and even for them it didn’t work in the end. The 20th century also saw widespread fear of such a state (best embodied in George Orwell’s 1984) come and go.

But where I live, all the tools needed to create the all-seeing state are being installed here and now. Even though my present government doesn’t look like the evil police state that I thought would come first, it is nonetheless its clear and even stated aim to create a world where no movement of ideas, people, vehicles, money or goods happens without that fact entering a police-searchable database. This year we will be getting personalized chipcards to be able to use public transport. There are already cameras to see license plates, cameras for the police to watch entire neighborhoods and soon everything I do online will also enter a database.

The Netherlands may be pioneering some of these developments, but similar things are happening all over the world. Given how intimidating all of this feels to me, I can only begin to imagine what it must feel like to the inhabitants of Myanmar/Burma, Belorus or any other true totalitarian dictatorship.

One million

The Netherlands just got a whole new system for health insurance. Under this new system, people are not automatically insured as soon as their income drops below a certain treshold. What this means in practice is that an expected 1 million people (more than 6% of the population) will be uninsured, up from 250.000. Amidst the deafening silence on this topic, hospitals are busy defining just what constitutes ’emergency care’. And ofcourse one million is just the beginning. Just imagine how cheap and docile the workers will be once we get to the level of America…

Apart from the blatently obvious social issue of such a rich country no longer providing basic health care for its people, has anyone ever considered the health aspects of living in the same city as large amounts of people who will not go see a doctor when they’re sick?