16.09.15

Voter Privacy caught in the World Wide Web

Gavin Goffe
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Voter Privacy caught in the World Wide Web

In the time it takes you to read this article, a hacker could have downloaded a digital copy of Jamaica's Official Voters' List, complete with the name, date of birth, occupation and current or former home address for every registered voter in the Island. This information is available on the Electoral Commission of Jamaica's (ECJ) website. The ECJ is trying to keep pace with the Digital Age by having a website from which anyone can query whether they are registered to vote and at which polling division they should present themselves. The problem is with our laws and regulations and the fact that privacy was not, at the time of its passage, a priority like it is today.

The Electoral Commission's website isn't new. It's been around for a few years now. In order to check whether a person is on the voter's list, you simply need to go to www.eoj.com.jm and click on the link in the middle of the page that says "Are you on the Voter's List?" Then, enter the person's first and last name and his or her date of birth. The voter's home address, as per the Voter's List, will be displayed. The only information necessary to find out someone's current or past home address is his or her date of birth. That information is not at all hard to find out, ladies (and gentlemen), for anyone who has a desire to know.

Under The Representation of the People (Official Lists) Regulations of 1965, the official voting list for each polling division is a public document, available for inspection at the offices of the Returning Officer and the Chief Electoral Officer. The Chief Electoral Officer may supply a copy of any official list to anyone, upon payment of such fee per copy as he determines from time to time. By law, the voters' list is required to include home addresses. There is no law, however, that requires the data to be published, in whole or in part, on the internet.

Putting the list online creates a tangled web of privacy and personal security issues. Firstly, there is the risk of wide-scale identity theft. The ECJ's site is not hosted on a secure server. There is no maximum number of incorrect queries that one can make before you're blocked. If a website like Madison Ashley, that contains the account details for people looking to cheat on their spouses, can be hacked, one can only imagine how easy it would be to illegally download a public document from an unsecured website. Many of those addresses on the voters' list are also the billing addresses on the voters' credit cards. That piece of the puzzle puts a "scammer" one step closer to getting his hands on your money.

Secondly, the fact that the list is in a digital format means that it is that now much easier to locate a specific person's details by doing a simple text search. In contrast, the printed copy of the voters' list is divided into numerous sections based on the constituencies, and must be manually searched. This can be done at any Post Office, which will allow persons to view, but not copy, the voters' list for that constituency. It's significantly harder for a scammer to locate any particular individual in that situation. Thirdly, there is the possible security risk to normal citizens who live in homes formerly occupied by well-known figures, whose old addresses are still showing on the public record. We all should know, for example, that Andrew Holness is no longer a Finance Controller residing at Mona Great House but that's what his public record says.