New research on transparency and access to source code

Joe Hall at UC Berkeley sent me a link to a the paper he is giving at the USENIX/ACCURATE workshop, “Transparency and Access to Source Code in Electronic Voting.” And here is the abstract of Hall’s paper:

We examine the potential role of source code disclosure and open source code requirements in promoting technical improvements and increasing transparency of voting systems. We describe the “enclosure of transparency” of voting technology that has occurred over the course of United States’ electoral history, the implications that source code disclosure has for transparency, the negative effects that enclosing transparency has had at different levels and the regulatory and legislative efforts to increase access to source code. We then look at the benefits and risks of open and disclosed source code regimes for voting systems, efforts to provide open source voting systems, existing open source business models that might translate to the voting systems context, regulatory and market barriers to disclosed or open source code in voting systems and alternatives that might exist outside of public disclosure of source code. We conclude that disclosure of full system source code to qualified individuals will promote technical improvements in voting systems while limiting some of the potential risks associated with full public disclosure.

I’ve only given the piece a quick read, but Hall does a good job in this piece in his summary of the pros and cons of the open-source argument as it has played out in recent years regarding electronic voting systems.

The two points I picked out of it upon my quick read were the following. One is that I couldn’t find any discussion of another middle-ground open-source proposal, and that is the one made by the VTP back in 2001: “…the source code for all vote recording and vote counting processes must be open source. The source code for the user interface can and should be proprietary, so that vendors can develop their products” (p. 46). The second is a deeper question, that I’m not sure that Hall can answer in this particular paper — who are the “qualified individuals”, who appoints them and to whom are they accountable?