Fifth-year Duke computer science graduate student Justin Moore does not fit the stereotype of a whistle-blower.
The mild-mannered son of a public school teacher, he espouses simple civic duty but does not claim to be politically active. Indeed, he appears to be the calm antithesis of the overheated, proselytizing do-gooder who rails against Corporate America on college campuses throughout the country.
Yet, by a simple act of Internet disobedience, he has joined a small group of individuals united in protest against the allegedly incompetent and undemocratic practices of Diebold, Inc., the world's self-professed leading voting solutions provider.
Moore and a few dozen others across the country have used university websites to post revealing and possibly embarrassing internal memoranda from Diebold employees. The campaign is organized online and has elicited a bevy of cease-and-desist letters from Diebold, which claims the memoranda were stolen, according to The Chronicle of Higher Education.
Moore said he has not yet received word from Diebold's lawyers, but he is nervous given the "very, very stiff" penalties for copyright infringement that he could conceivably face.
"I do have a family; we do have a house," he said. "But I wouldn't be doing this if I didn't think... this is at the heart of our democracy."
The controversy surrounding Diebold began last spring when a team of computer scientists at Johns Hopkins University and Rice University undertook a security audit of the source code of the company's voting machine software, which Moore said was available to the public on the Internet. The computer scientists were stunned at the lack of adequate security for the software.
"Our finding was that the software was built very, very poorly," said Dan Wallach, assistant professor of computer science at Rice, who participated in the audit. "Nothing about the software indicates to us that the engineers understood the security threats that a voting system faces."
Wallach said any voter who walks up to a Diebold voting machine can cast multiple votes if he or she brings in a homemade "smart card." He also said problems could arise from poll workers' uninterrupted access to machines before and after an election.
Though Wallach said election irregularities had been alleged, he noted that without a paper record of votes, there is insufficient evidence to either substantiate or refute the accusations. "That's the core problem," he said, "that the electorate is required to trust that the voting machines work and there's no backup plan."
Diebold spokesperson David Bear denied that the company's voting machines were insecure or unsafe. He said the audit used an outdated, incomplete source code and that its findings did not take into account the checks and balances of an actual election.
Still, word spread throughout the close-knit tech community, and Diebold's public relations quagmire deepened when memoranda leaked to reveal what Moore called a startling pattern of neglect from the company. "At the worst, it looked like they were actively trying to cover up mistakes made during actual elections," he said.
The Chronicle of Higher Education reported that Diebold has contacted at least three institutions--Amherst College, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and the University of Missouri at Rolla--demanding that student-run sites containing the memoranda be taken offline. Amherst cut off the student's Internet access and Missouri-Rolla asked the student to remove the material. MIT could not be reached for comment.
But Moore said he has no plans to remove the memoranda from his web site and, after consulting with University legal counselors and Office of Information Technology Chief Security Officer Chris Cramer, is taking a wait-and-see approach.
Cramer, the University's agent for enforcing the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, said that while he receives a fair number of cease-and-desist notices regarding copyright infringement issues, he was of the opinion that Moore's publication of the memoranda was protected under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. In any event, he said he would forward the matter to University legal counselors if Diebold sent a take-down notice. The Office of the University Counsel declined comment.
Moore, who is currently co-teaching a computer science course that addresses intellectual property and the Internet, said he is confident that he is functioning within the parameters of the law. "This is non-commercial political speech, which traditionally gets very, very high protection under the First Amendment," he said.
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