Automated Everything and National Security

Would you ever entrust a foreign company to build a digital voting device which allows the parliament to vote while pressing a button and then the result will be shown on a screen? Certainly not, because it leaves too much space for manipulation – so counting the raised hands manually is still the standard operational procedure of choice. But automated elections are okay? Certainly not..

Some background on automated elections. In 2005, Germany’s Supreme Court ruled that the use of elections machines is unconstitutional because it violates the democratic right of transparency of the elections process.

However, election machines were applied in the last presidential elections in the United States. Thus, elections fraud was said to be committed caused by manipulation of the voting machines. But because the Philippines are very American, of course they applied automated elections – even though there have been some good reasons to do so, for example to shorten the time in which election results can be changed and people bought off.

Some background information about the Philippine setting. SMARTMATIC works together with the Philippine based Total Information Management Corp. (TIM). Let us have a closer look at SMARTMATIC. Unfortunately the SMARTMATIC website was down, when I did my research. Well, for a company which is working in the IT sector and which provides servers that is ridicioulus. But let us not getting biased here!

SMARTMATIC was founded in 2000, is privately held and the CEO is Antonio Mugica. It won the bidding (together with TIM) on 82,000 precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines to be used in the 2010 elections with its bid offer of P7.2 billion. Apart from different difficulties, wrong configured flash cards, not submitting machines and people who offered to make you win in exchange for a huge amount of money the interesting thing are the international ties, which are inherent to the consortium.

Let us untie it:
1. SMARTMATIC Executive believed to be consultant for National Computer Center which is member of the technical advisory board of the COMELEC (Commission on Elections) raised by UP Law Professor Roque?

2. SMARTMATIC ties to Korean Jarltech to build the computers because they hold the ISO certificate, SMARTMATIC should have to be eligible?
SMARTMATIC believed to have ties to the Venezuelan government because it only carried out elections there?

3. The used software is certified by American based SysTest Labs!

4. Other ties which I do not want like to mention here!

The bottom-line is: This construct is so opaque and it enabled a president to be elected.

In my mind, using voting machines is already a problem because you can never be sure what backdoors are programmed, who has the supervisor passwords and if everything goes the way it is supposed to go. Secondly, entrusting a foreign based company with the construction of voting machines does not only hand the power over to the private sector but also to a foreign country. What interests might have the Venezuelan leadership in certain election results, or: who pays enough for particular results? Adding up, also the public and hidden ties of this company makes me not understand why some government should contract SMARTMATIC to carry out this task.

In the Philippine case, automated elections might be important but why not setting up a domestic conglomerate to build this machine under the auspices of different party representatives, to supervise it. Then, if fraud is committed, it is at least committed by powers within this country. But handing it over to a company of a foreign country with certain ties, is in my mind irresponsible. National Security might be endangered.

Sometimes I think that information and communication technologies count different for policy-makers because they do not understand it. They do not know that some routines and hidden backdoors might be used to change the results of the election. They are okay with it if some people who call themselves IT experts say that everything is fine. Or if some company certifies something that it is okay. The lack of understanding what is really going on makes it dangerous. Here again, media competency is very important. Politicians and lawyers do not only need shallow consultants, they do have to gain IT skills to understand what is going on themselves!

Dear Policy-Makers, get IT-educated!

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