22 Jan 2015

Pirate party founder: 'Online voting? Would you want 4chan to decide your government?'

In 2012, a contest for US schools to win a gig by Taylor Swift was hijacked by members of the 4chan website, who piled ​on its online vote in an attempt to send the pop star to a school for deaf children.
Now, imagine a similar stunt being pulled for a general election, if voting could be done online. Far-fetched? Not according to Rick Falkvinge, founder of Sweden’s Pirate ​party.
“Voting over the internet? Would you really want 4chan to decide your next government?” he said, during a debate about democracy and technology in London, organised by the BBC as part of its Democracy Day event.
Falkvinge was responding to a question about whether online voting – or even voting from smartphones – would encourage more people to vote. Besides online pranksters, his reservations included the potential ability of governments and security agencies to snoop on people’s online votes.
“Surveillance is so ubiquitous, we are at a crossroads. Yes, technology can be used for good, but we are also in a Big Brother society well beyond the nightmare dystopias of the 1950s,” he said.
“Searching online is as close to a mind-reading machine as we’ve ever come. And that is now eavesdropped by governments. We are arriving at a point where the government has the ability to hold you accountable for how you vote. That is a 180-degree reversal of power.”
​His fellow panelist Arvind Gupta, head of social media for India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), agreed. “It should be private: your vote is a secret ballot. We have to ensure privacy and the secrecy of the ballot,” he said.
The debate’s co-chairman, technology journalist Bill Thompson, added that “the risks of adopting an unknown technology are so enormous, we may be better to stick to the known restrictions… paper ballots are broken in ways that we understand”.
However, Gupta and Falkvinge praised the growing use of electronic voting machines in elections, where voting still takes place in person at poll stations rather than over the internet.
“If you have a vote over the internet, the government is unable to make sure you don’t have an abusive spouse behind you telling you how to vote, or an employer behind you telling you how to vote,” said Falkvinge.
“You need that physical space that the government ensures, so you have privacy and your own conscience. Once you have that, then you can go electronic… a machine that prints a ballot with your options, which is machine readable, and then you have the paper tray.”
The merits of electronic voting machines, and their potential for fraud, has been discussed widely in recent years, including in India. However, Gupta said that the technology has not given cause for concern so far.
“In India, we have close to 2.2m electronic voting machines. If there is a malfunction in a couple of them out of 2.2m, I think that’s not a concern. I think that’s overplayed,” he said, adding that the ability to get results “in real time” in a country with more than 815 million eligible voters is a step forward for democracy.
The BJP won a landslide victory in the 2014 election in India, although the run-up to the voting saw heated debate about the role that social media would play in the campaigning process.
“In the two years preceding, there was a concerted effort to first discredit the medium, and to stifle free speech – to ban the medium and put a lot of restrictions on it,” said Gupta.
“But the same set of people are now realising the importance of open, free media, and social media as part of that … We’ve seen the voting percentages go up more than 10 percentage points.”
The panel also talked, albeit all too briefly, about the potential impact that large internet services – and Facebook in particular, with its news feed algorithm – may have on democracy. For example, whether the social network could influence voting patterns by hiding or showing certain stories from its users’ news feeds.
“If we’re getting too dependent on certain tools, certain platforms from a technology perspective, does it present a risk that these platforms under pressure of legal guidelines can influence democracy in a manner that we cannot predict?” said Gupta.
“It’s a worry. Today these companies have a lot of control over our thinking process. Instead of a printing press having control, it’s probably now an online platform that has control over how we think and how we work.”
“It does bring a light to what power exists today with single players,” agreed Falkvinge.
Read More:http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2015/jan/21/pirate-party-online-voting-4chan-government

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