Electronic civil disobedience against Diebold and e-voting manufacturers

In 2003, internal emails from the electronic voting machine manufacturer Diebold emerged that suggested the company had misled voting officials in numerous states about the security of its machines, had violated contracts with states by installing new software that had not been certified, and had knowingly implemented voting systems with severe security vulnerabilities. Investigative journalist Bev Harris and the UK Independent had documented some of the serious problems, but few had taken notice, and Harris had been repeatedly threatened by her ISP, fearful of repercussions from Diebold's lawyers.

In September, a member of Why War? posted an archive of the internal files on his website. After Swarthmore threatened to shut off our Internet access in the face of baseless copyright infringement claims from Diebold, we initiated a global campaign of disobedience, in which students at universities would post mirrors of the files on their own servers, staying ahead of each specious take-down request. At its peak, more than 50 different colleges and universities around the world had copies of the documents and 50,000 viewers were visiting our site each day. Simultaneously, another group of students at Swarthmore, led by Nelson Pavlosky, Luke Smith and Branen Salmon, pursued legal action against Diebold through the Electronic Frontier Foundation for abusive copyright threats.

The combination of civil disobedience and civil action paid off handsomely. Within two months, Diebold backed down from their legal threats and resigned themselves to the damaging information about them now in the public domain. Dozens of newspapers began their own investigations, and Diebold was decertified as a voting machine supplier in multiple states. Since that time, “verified voting” — the use of electronic voting machines with paper receipts and strict regulations — has become a political priority being pursued by dozens of members of Congress, governors, independent analysts and political action groups. Suspicion of Diebold and other electronic voting machine manufacturers — and, thus, consistent investigation into their practices — remains high. I am honored to have been a part of the student groups that set this movement on its course.

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