Tuesday, June 24, 2014

In Australia, how your vote is counted is a "trade secret"

Yes, really:

Following the shambolic Western Australian Senate election, the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) has turned down a citizen's FOI request to look at the software it uses to count Senate votes.

The decision, published yesterday at RightToKnow.org.au, was in response to a request made by Michael Cordover.

Cordover had asked for the source code of the software, along with scripts and interpreted code; along the data specifications the AEC used in writing the software.

In turning down the request, the AEC stated that 58 documents were discovered, and all were withheld, since according to the AEC the documents “would disclose trade secrets”, and would risk destroying or diminishing the commercial value of the information released.

This not only means that it is impossible to determine whether the AEC's software complies with the law, it also means its impossible to test its security (though as its not an online system, that's less on an issue, unless people are writing SQL injection attacks on their ballot papers and these aren't weeded out as "informal" first).

There's a full archive related to the request here. Currently its before the Official Information Commissioner, who wants to kill it off because they are unlikely to be able to resolve it before they are shut down at the end of the year. The requester is planning to appeal to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal. But they shouldn't have to. The idea that a process specified in law and owned by a government agency is a "trade secret" is simply crazy.