Thursday, February 8, 2018

The Trouble With the Latest Hacking Story

A Homeland Security official has told NBC News that Russian hackers "successfully penetrated" the voter registration rolls of an "exceptionally small" number of states prior to the 2016 elections. There is no evidence that the data were actually tampered with, as in purging the names of registered voters. It simply means that the lists were read, copied and collected.

What virtually none of the alarmist news coverage bothers to explain is that US voter registration rolls are already legally accessible public records. If Russia wanted to access voter data in Washington, D.C., for example, all its spies had to do was click on the District's Board of Elections official website. Every registered voter's information was already there for the taking: name, home address, party affiliation, precinct ward and whether or not they voted in each election since 2012.

Elsewhere in the United States, it's often harder. Those wishing to penetrate the voter registration rolls might have to submit a formal request, either in person or by mail.  This is exactly how you end up on the junk mail lists of every politician running for office. It's annoying and intrusive at times, but as far as I know, political hacks have never been accused of hacking the rolls during campaign season.

Alexander Howard of the Sunlight Foundation, a government transparency advocacy group, has called for tighter restrictions on voter roll access for all entities: for example, requiring submission of a formal Freedom of Information Act request in order to obtain voter information. As it stands now, three states - Alaska, Arkansas and Colorado - impose absolutely no restrictions on who can access the data. Other states impose wait times or charge hefty fees in order to give the voting public a semblance of privacy and protection from bad actors, such as corporate marketers. California prohibits all access to voter information from outside the US, and specifies the information can only be used for political purposes. 

Interestingly enough, Colorado is among the handful of states now complaining that its public rolls were "targeted" by Russia, while California denies outright the Homeland Security claim that its database was infiltrated by Russian spies.

Since a massive breach of national electoral data already occurred in 2015, exposing the personal information of 191 million American voters for anyone in the world to see online, pointing fingers at Russia at this point is a little like complaining about the barn door being left open. If you've ever voted, says Howard, then somewhere out there in cyberspace your name, your address, your gender, your voter ID number, your voting frequency (but not who you voted for) and whether or not you voted in any primary since 2000, is possibly still available free for the taking, by anybody with the tools to search for it. (I purposely did not search for it myself.)

But whatever amplifies and advances the required Narrative which blames Russia and only Russia for abusing voter information and endangering our democracy is A-O.K. by our famously independent mainstream media.

Here's a suggestion from Ludditeville: let's bring back paper registration and paper records and paper ballots, all of which will require actual physical burglaries and physical tampering to complete any espionage and other dirty tricks, just like in the good old Watergate days.


Cirze said...


I've been thinking for some time that it would be a great public service if you could tape your essays so your fans could listen to your prose as they went about the rest of their day.

Like Blue Gal & Driftglass do.

And Lee Camp & John & Jimmy & so many others do now.

You'd be great.

Thanks for your superlative efforts.

Karen Garcia said...

Cirze, sounds intriguing, but sadly I lack the technical acumen and equipment (ancient computer and operating system) for such an enterprise. I have often thought it would be fun to be part of a group podcast hosted in somebody's garage or basement, though! Those are more off-the-cuff conversations than read-alouds. I do sometimes perform rambling monologues and rants in the privacy of my own shower, but I doubt they would be of much interest to the general population.

My blog-posts are usually fairly short and spaced far enough (about a dozen a month on average) apart so that people can find the time to sit down and read my stuff once a week, if even that frequently.

In any event, thank you for your kind words.