Electoral Commission bucks Senate on voting source code

Source code release could "leave the voting system open to hacking or manipulation"

The Australian Electoral Commission has refused a Senate order to reveal the underlying source code of the EasyCount software used to tabulate votes in upper house elections.

A motion moved by Greens Senator Lee Rhiannon on 10 July directed Special Minister of State Michael Ronaldson to table the source code as well as correspondence between Ronaldson's office and the AEC relating to a freedom of information request for the source code.

In October, following the fraught outcome of the Senate election in WA, Hobart lawyer Michael Cordover filed a freedom of information application with the AEC requesting the release of the source code and documentation of any data formats used by the software.

The AEC rejected the FOI application, citing section 45 of the FOI Act, which exempts "documents that disclose trade secrets".

Cordover appealed the AEC's decision, including earlier this year applying to the Office of the Information Commissioner for a review of the AEC's decision.

The OAIC revealed in June, however, that it would be unable to make a ruling on the appeal before the organisation ceases to operate under cost-saving measures announced by the government in the budget earlier this year.

Cordover launched an appeal on crowdfunding site Pozible to help pay for an appeal of the FOI decision at the Administrative Appeals Tribunal.

The upper house's motion required the code to be tabled by 15 July. However a letter (PDF) from Ronaldson to the clerk of the Senate, tabled yesterday in the upper house, stated that the government "will not table any documents or correspondence relating to Mr Cordover's FOI request or the source code for the Senate counting system."

The letter said that publication of the software "could leave the voting system open to hacking or manipulation.

"In addition, I am advised that the AEC classifies the relevant software as commercial-in-confidence as it also underpins the industrial and fee-for-service election counting systems," the letter states.

The letter said that it would not be "appropriate for the Government to comment further" on the issue because the FOI application is before the Administrative Appeals Tribunal.

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Tags electionsAustralian Electoral Commission (AEC)open sourcesecurity

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