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Some of the data requested includes date of birth, voting history, military service records, party affiliations, felony convictions and the last four of the social security number. It has already been proven that the first six digits of a social security number can be guessed (by using the state location of the individual) after obtaining the last 4 digits. It's easy to see why requesting the data has become quite controversial, even though the commission recently suspended its request.
The type of data States can release is regulated by the individual state laws, which bars some of the requested information from being shared at all. Forty-four states had decided to provide only partial information, that which is already publicly available, including Colorado, which is prohibited from releasing driver’s license numbers, dates of birth and social security numbers by state law.
In some cases, this information is already available, for a price. Fees for data collected by states is available for political parties and organizations, or anyone who can afford it. Campaigns purchase data for strategic reasons while commercial companies profit on reselling it themselves. Discretion is a must we're talking about people's identities.
Cybersecurity experts warn this request will open the data to digital manipulation. First, by putting all of this information in one place, hackers have a one-stop shopping spot for almost everything they could ever want, and have a much easier time getting a hold of it — rather than breaking into several computer systems located throughout the United States, all with secure servers and encryption capabilities. A national voter database sets individual voters up for identity theft, blackmail, and much more. What more could a hacker ask for? How about publishing all the data publicly, which the administration hinted as the plan.
As for how the commission wants to receive the data, one option floated is via the White House email — ironic — which, above all else, if the least secure. Andy Yen, a cyber security expert, stated that this is like sending a postcard with valuable information written on it instead of putting it in an envelope. The second option for the commission is a Pentagon-run file sharing service, which sounds like it could work other than the fact that it's not configured to encrypt web traffic.
We cannot underestimate how large an effort will be employed to steal this data if the commission's request if fulfilled. “There’s a never-ending amount of mischief that can be done with data in the wrong hands,” according to Myrna Perez, Director of Voting Rights and Elections at the Brennan Center For Justice. Those capable of breaching the system and stealing this information are waiting with bated breath knowing the U.S. lacks the technology to secure it. hackers will be drawn to this data lack flies on a dead carcass.
“It is beyond stupid,” says Nicholas Weaver, a computer science professor at the University of California.
This is a lot more than a political issue — we need to step back and view the whole picture. Recently, hidden between sensational headlines, the Election Assistance Commission, a federal agency that helps states' voting machines are secure was defunded by the House Administration Committee. The timing for this could not be worst. When you look at these two events a picture emerges that informs us that our next national election may be in danger of being compromised. The technology and data that holds one of our most precious democratic processes together is in danger of being turned against us.
Thomas Russell is a high school information technology teacher and retired Army Signal Corps soldier. He is the founder of SEMtech (Student Engagement and Mentoring in Technology) and an Advisory Board Member of Educating Children of Color. His hobbies include writing, photography and hiking. Contact Thomas via Russell’s Room on Facebook, or email at email@example.com, and his photography at thomasholtrussell.zenfolio.com.