[clug] AEC denies FOI request to source code of 'EasyCount' for counting Senate votes.

Andrew Donnellan andrew at donnellan.id.au
Mon Jul 7 20:25:35 MDT 2014

On 08/07/14 11:53, steve jenkin wrote:
> Anyone across this issue?
> Is any action possible?

Donate to mjec's Pozible project to fund his appeal!

> In the USA, the AEC would be on far shakier ground as their constitution (?) states, “Government of the people, by the people, for the people”.

No, that was merely from a speech by Lincoln. The Declaration of
Independence does have some similar sentiments, as do /elements/ of the

In the USA, they contract private companies (such as our friends at
Diebold) to supply entire voting systems, rather than just developing
custom applications for government clients, thus making sure there's no
way for the public to ever get their hands on the source code! Yay

> In Westminster Democracies, like ours, the Government represents The Crown, not The People, very important difference.

In practice, not a particularly important difference.

> In the world of Open Source, this is often taken to be that software developed by Universities & Government Agencies and _implicitly_ paid for by the public, is automatically owned by the public.
> Somehow that gets reformulated with biotech patents.

It'd be nice if this were true, certainly - there has been some progress
in this area in Australia with AusGOAL and such. Now if only they'd
ensure publicly funded scientific research was published in Open Access

> I agree there could be a ‘trade secret’ for an implementation of a publicly known algorithm.
> There are clever, non-obvious ways to do things that are worth real money in commercial operations.

True in general - however, the nature of the application area means that
there's only so much value one can derive from a clever implementation.
My uber-efficient vote counting algorithm takes only 3 minutes to count
through NSW Senate ballots, compared to 15 minutes for a naive
implementation - so what? That's not hugely valuable in the whole scheme
of things.

My guess is that the most valuable and difficult part of the software to
replicate would be the front-end UI, report generation and possibly
however they interface with the AEC Election Management System. The data
entry side of things is specifically excluded from mjec's FOI request,
which takes out a lot of this anyway.

(I also have very little reason to believe that the AEC would have
anything even close to a nice, robust implementation that's truly

> I don’t agree that the AEC should hold the software secret. AEC declared the software "non-commercial” and it's paid for by the public purse and used strictly for public purposes.

The AEC most certainly hasn't said that EasyCount is exclusively
non-commercial or used for public purposes only. The AEC uses EasyCount
as part of its private fee-for-service elections - if they release the
source code, the argument goes, then competing fee-for-service election
companies (bizarrely, they consider the State/Territory electoral
commissions as competitors...) would have an unfair competitive advantage.

One of mjec's counterarguments is that even if the source code is
released under FOI, it's still protected by copyright, and thus the AEC
is free to take legal action against any competitors who abuse the FOI
release and copy their code into competing products. Not exactly Free
Software, but oh well.

Hopefully we can raise enough money for a barrister, or some QC steps
forward pro bono... this is a hugely important issue and hopefully the
AAT sees the sense in releasing the code.

(Next target: the NSW Electoral Commission's iVote system - because
internet voting is so secure!)


Andrew Donnellan
DigiACTive Pty Ltd (ABN 62 166 886 871)

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