Finnish e-voting system is a trade secret

A member of Electronic Frontier Finland (Effi), a Finnish association for promoting digital rights, recently sent a request of information to the Finnish Ministry of Justice regarding their planned e-voting system [5]. The system will be piloted in the municipal elections in October 2008, and it is based on a DRE (Direct Recording Electronic) type e-voting system from TietoEnator Finland, and a Spanish back-end provider, Scytl.

In their response, Ministry of Justice states that the documentation that has been written concerning the specific details of the e-voting system has to be kept secret on the basis of the Act on the Openness of Government Activities. Documents that have to be kept secret include documents related to the information security of the system and documents that contain information about the trade secrets of a private company, in this case, the systems provider [1].

Effi's analysis of the system is only based on high-level documents provided by the Ministry of Justice [2] and a U.S. patent that has been granted to Scytl, and is assumed to form the basis of the Finnish e-voting system core [3]. According to this analysis, the system will not utilise any voter-verified paper ballot system or even the electronic receipt system that is detailed in the Scytl patent.

The current, traditional Finnish elections feature a widely distributed ballot counting process, which is carried out manually and collectively by the representatives of the competing parties at each polling station. The results of each polling station are individually published, providing the representatives with a possibility to cross-check that the votes at their polling station have been correctly tallied. The ballots are then separately counted again, independently of the original count, and archived in the case of further recounts being deemed necessary. The system is quite fast, providing results in a matter of hours from the whole country, easy to understand, and very resilient.

The e-voting system as currently proposed would make recounts that would be independent of the electronic system impossible. It would also make it possible for a much smaller team of individuals to alter the election results, as the software, which counts the ballots, is not public and its integrity would probably be only checked by consultants contracted by the Ministry of Justice.

As a counterexample, thirty U.S. states have already made a voter-verified paper ballot a mandatory part of electronic voting [4]. For some reason, the Finnish Ministry of Justice has not seen this as a requirement for the all-electronic voting system in Finland.

[1] Ministry of Justice response on January 23rd, 2008 to a member of Electronic Frontier Finland (Effi), in Finnish: http://www.effi.org/system/files?file=om-2008-01-23.txt
[2] E-Voting pilot: Technical implementation and information security, 20th June 2007, TietoEnator, in Finnish: http://www.effi.org/system/files?file=Pilotin_tekninen_esittely_v1.0H.pdf
[3] U.S. patent 7,260,552, granted 21st August, 2007.
[4] http://www.verifiedvoting.org/
[5] Effi: Voting systems must not be trade secrets. Press release from Electronic Frontier Finland on 25th January, 2008, in Finnish. http://www.effi


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