Sequoia Voting Systems threatens Felten's Princeton security research team

Edwin Smith, the VP for "Compliance/Quality/Certification" at voting-machine manufacturer Sequoia Voting Systems has sent a threatening legal letter to Ed Felten -- the Princeton law professor who's led many security audits of voting machines in the past.

The letter warns that if Felten and his colleagues publish any kind of security audit information of Sequoia's machines ("Sequoia software, its behavior, reports regarding same") that Sequoia will "take appropriate steps" through its "retained counsel."

It's hard to imagine a stupider legal threat. Honestly.

First of all, if Sequoia's voting machines actually, you know, work, then why would they threaten legal action against Felten and co., should they publish their findings after a security audit? Presumably, manufacturers want testers to publish glowing reports of their goods -- Sequoia's basically saying, "We're scared of what you'll find when you pop the hood on our product."

The next time a jurisdiction is thinking of sourcing its voting machines from Sequoia, activists just have to show up with copies of this letter: "Why should we entrust our precious votes to a machine from a manufacturer who threatens to sue anyone who does a quality assessment of its products?"

And of all the people to send legal threats to, Felten is just the Wrong Guy. He's the guy whom the EFF represeted in a suit against the RIAA when they threatened to sue him for giving a talk on the abortive SDMI DRM initiative -- he gave the talk as scheduled. Felten doesn't fold, and he's friends with some really smart lawyers.

Dear Professors Felten and Appel:

As you have likely read in the news media, certain New Jersey election officials have stated that they plan to send to you one or more Sequoia Advantage voting machines for analysis. I want to make you aware that if the County does so, it violates their established Sequoia licensing Agreement for use of the voting system. Sequoia has also retained counsel to stop any infringement of our intellectual properties, including any non-compliant analysis. We will also take appropriate steps to protect against any publication of Sequoia software, its behavior, reports regarding same or any other infringement of our intellectual property.

Very truly yours,
Edwin Smith
VP, Compliance/Quality/Certification
Sequoia Voting Systems

Dear Edwin Smith: put it back in your pants before someone cuts it off.

Link

(Image: Sequoia Voting Machine)

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  1. oh,these guys?
    BLOGGED BY John Gideon ON 2/20/2008 2:45PM
    Sequoia E-Voting Machines Reporting Inaccurate Totals in New Jersey
    Post-Super Tuesday Canvass Reveals Discrepancies Between Internal Printouts and Memory Cartridges on DRE Systems in Five Separate Counties
    Same ‘Tamperproof’ Machines Recently Hacked by Princeton University Professor, Also Failed to Start Up Properly on Election Day..

  2. Venezuela??

    U.S. Investigates Voting Machines’ Venezuela Ties

    *
    Article Tools Sponsored By
    By TIM GOLDEN
    Published: October 29, 2006

    The federal government is investigating the takeover last year of a leading American manufacturer of electronic voting systems by a small software company that has been linked to the leftist Venezuelan government of President Hugo Chávez.

    A touch-screen machine by Sequoia Voting Systems was used this month during early balloting in Chicago.
    New Politics Blog
    Politics Blog

    News, updates and insights on the midterm elections, the race for 2008 and everything in-between.

    *

    The inquiry is focusing on the Venezuelan owners of the software company, the Smartmatic Corporation, and is trying to determine whether the government in Caracas has any control or influence over the firm’s operations, government officials and others familiar with the investigation said.

  3. This doesn’t seem threatening. To me the letter just says that they have contracts with the state and they intend to enforce the contract. A threat would go something like “If you write anything about our voting machine we’ll sue your pants off!”

  4. The real question is why would anyone buy a product where the license agreement prevented them from testing or evaluating it?

    I would be curious to know what the relationship is between the Sequoia sales people and the employees of the government who approved the deal. Smells pretty fishy to me.

    Vote no on Sequoia.

  5. This whole DRE voting machine phenomenon infuriates me to no end.

    It only exists because the kingmakers want to silently commit electoral fraud.

    Anyone even cursorily interested in truly secure voting machines would use cryptography such as zero-knowledge proofs for mathematical “military grade” integrity of voting — and independently verifiable too! This is the same style of cryptography that makes digital bearer settlement (e.g. DigiCash) possible.

    And surprise, David Chaum, the same guy who invented DigiCash, applied the same principle to voting with PunchScan.

    So we have cheat-proof open source electronic voting. Why are we still arguing over DRE machines?! Why are voting commissions not being held accountable to this simple fundamental statement of fact?! The solution is here. Use it now!

  6. I guess the bottom line is that when things are so hopelessly corrupt, what does it matter what crooked machine is used?

  7. I know: is it that hard to count votes by hand?

    I would never trust anyone named Edwin. It isn’t a proper name, surely, unless he comes from Narnia. Anyway, it seems Felton is fine, for the time being; Sequoia is only threatening the county for possibly violating its license. So after taxpayers foot the bill for useless vote counting robots, they also pay the bill for the robots lawyers.

  8. I know: is it that hard to count votes by hand?

    Ever see the expense of a recount? IIRC, the estimated cost of a recount in the New Hampshire primary due to voting machine irregularities was projected at about $125,000.

    End-to-end auditable voting systems (E2E) allow anyone curious to perform their own independent audit of a voting record with the speed and efficiency of computer tabulation, and mathematically “impossible” to forge.

  9. @ TomT #4
    You can’t seriously be confused about that can you Tom? Shouldn’t have drank that Kool-Aid labeled “your public servants, working for you”. It was a dead give away.

  10. TOMT

    The real question is why would anyone buy a product where the license agreement prevented them from testing or evaluating it?

    It’s a depressingly standard license provision. I’m pretty sure it’s part of the standard Microsoft EULA.

    Now, that doesn’t answer your question. If anything it makes it all the more perplexing – not just, “why would anyone buy such a product”, but “why do the biggest and theoretically best-run corporations and governments constantly buy such products?”

  11. Presumably, manufacturers want testers to publish glowing reports of their goods — Sequoia’s basically saying, “We’re scared of what you’ll find when you pop the hood on our product.”

    No — because the possibility of negative press far exceeds the possible benefits of “glowing reports”. I mean, how exciting is saying “Sequoia’s machines are way cool — they actually tally up counts correctly!”? But any report showing errors (even perfectly honest ones that don’t require a conspiracy theory involving deliberately altering votes) could potentially destroy the company. Why would any company want to expose itself to that risk even it is honest? If you don’t like such legal action the only reasonable action is to make it illegal; you can hardly blame a company for acting in its own best interest.

  12. #8

    They still do it by hand in blighty; its a point of pride for some counties to be the first one in. It hasn’t, to memory, ever been a problem.

  13. Ohio’s voting machines are now an official crime scene
    by Bob Fitrakis and Harvey Wasserman
    March 17, 2008

    At least 15 touch-screen voting machines that produced improbable numbers in Ohio’s 2006 statewide election are now under double-lock in an official crime scene. And the phony “Homeland Security Alert” used by Republicans to build up George W. Bush’s 2004 vote count in a key southwestern Ohio county has come under new scrutiny.

  14. They still do it by hand in blighty

    Indeed they do, and the counting floor is also open to checkers of all parties. John Sweeney once beautifully described the counters as “the accountants of our democracy”.

    (His book, “Purple Homicide” is a lovely account of a rather unusual election for an MP where an independent candidate took on the corrupt, established candidate and won.)

  15. Every time someone questions my opposition to voting machines, I refer them to what it takes to license and operate a video poker machine in the State of Nevada.

    Entire casinos can be shut down for audit if an inspector suspects that there’s more than one machine malfunctioning, and the inspector can have access to the machine and everything to do with it at any time. Machines that are capable of being influenced or exhibit statistical deviations from random get yanked.

    But VOTING MACHINES ARE CLOSED TO INSPECTION?

  16. Felten is a professor of computer science and public affairs, not law (Princeton doesn’t have a law school).

  17. This is just an odd “threat”– it seems they should be directing it at the NJ officials, as they would be the ones breaking the “licensing agreement” by sending Felten the machine. And it’s vague: what do they mean by “publication of Sequoia software?”– if Felten just says “there is a bug in the software” does that constitute “publication of Sequoia software”?

  18. If it would be against the license for state election officials to send him a machine, then it follows that the state did not buy them, since they clearly do not own them in a traditional sense. What if a machine was provided to Felten without any software, and it was evaluated on a purely physical basis? Would that break any license?

    It seems like the right of any citizen and voter to request a review of the ‘machinery of democracy’ regardless of license. I had misread the letter before, and while it is still puzzlingly worded, I was going to suggest that if the election officials couldn’t do it, then some regular citizen could do it. Now that I believe I understand the letter, the only answer I can come up with is “So?” Sequoia is informing Felten that if officials send him a machine, the officials are breaking their license with Sequoia, and that certain mysterious unknown things may happen to persons unrelated to the contract with Sequoia, and that they are prepared to execute these mystery actions.

    I also love the dirtiness of the phrase ‘non-compliant analysis’ coming from the company that names this voting product ‘Advantage’, like some sports drink that allows competition-crushing results. Perhaps I am very, very accurate.

  19. #7, bite me. My grandfather was named Edwin, though he didn’t know it until he immigrated to Canada. Everyone just called him Ed so he assumed his name was Edward. He was also definitely not a lawyer-type.

    If you want to distrust people based on their name, I’d go with people who have a first name for a surname. Like Ron Paul or Nicole Richie.

  20. If Sequoia’s basis for trying to shut Felten up is the alleged terms of their contract with the State of New Jersey, I wonder how they intend to deal with the presumed fact that Felten isn’t party to their contract. I would think they might have recourse against New Jersey, but nothing on Felten.

    In other words, another threatening letter, full of sound and fury, and signifying nothing.

  21. I’m not surprised that Edwin Smith’s letter used the term
    “intellectual property”, because intimidation is what that term was
    designed for. Whoever uses that term is nearly always either confused
    or trying to confuse the public. In this case, it is probably the
    latter.

    See http://www.gnu.org/philosophy/not-ipr.html for more
    about this issue.

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