Monday, August 18, 2008

When is speeding better than voting?

I couldn't resist - the Washington Post reports that an older couple was cited for doing 100 mph on their street - which is highly improbable given how winding the street is and the type of car they drive (a Toyota Echo, which has a 0-60 rating measured in hours). Clearly the ticket shouldn't have been issued - the Post writes that "The speed camera system is designed to catch its own mistakes. When a glitch occurs, the device warns the reviewers by citing a weird speed to get their attention, such as 0 mph or 100 mph. The Brennan's speed should have been the tip-off to toss the ticket, but it got through the review."

All's well that ends well. So what does this have to do with voting? Well, all-electronic voting machines don't have anything to detect glitches, as we've regularly seen. And unlike someone driving 100 on a winding neighborhood street, which can clearly be ruled out, it's pretty much impossible for a paperless voting system to detect an "unexpected" result and throw it out.

Additionally, the cameras (I believe) rapidly snap a couple of pictures. So by examining the pictures and their timestamps, it should be possible to come up with a more reasonable speed. Having the camera digitally sign the images together with a trustworthy timestamp would be even better.

All of which makes me wonder - I'm guessing these cameras are networked into a central site, probably connected via the Internet. How resilient are the cameras from hacking (i.e., from someone breaking in and modifying or erasing images, or inserting images)? The cameras seem more likely to be unprotected than the servers where the images are uploaded for processing. They're probably not the most important systems out there on the Internet (assuming they are, in fact, connected that way), but they're an attractive target to someone who doesn't want a speeding ticket....


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