Monthly Archives: December 2018

Electronic voting and trust


There was s series of letters published in one of the daily papers here in Singapore about the apparent anomaly that we do lots of stuff electronically, but voting is not one of them. There was a reply from the Singapore elections department (which reports to the Prime Minister, ie, not an independent commission), that there are issues of trust still unresolved.

This thread was triggered by an article on 23rd November that headlined “Faster ballot counting, e-registration at next GE” (the MSM that it appeared in has a habit of locking up the contents so I have the PDF of the article linked below).

That lead to the first letter by a Mr Lee Kwok Weng on 1st December asking why is the voting not done electronically. That prompted a reply by the Elections Department on 4th December “Online voting still not fool-proof”. There was another reply from Mr Cheng Choon Fei on 6th December “Electronic voting open to errors and fraud”.

Understandably, the not entirely pleased Mr Lee, on 8th December, wrote back and the letter was headlined as “If online banking is acceptable, electronic voting should be too”.

Having not seen the previous letters and article, I thought that I could add to the discussion and wrote in to the MSM. Here’s what I wrote on 8th December and sent to STForum@sph.com.sg:

I would like to respond to a letter published in your forum authored by Mr Lee
Kwok Weng about he being surprised about the replies by the Elections Department
on providing online elections in Singapore. [0]

Mr Lee correctly notes that we do banking transactions and many other types of online transfer of value.

There is a simple reason as to why that works: you can verify it. You can check if monies were sent, or emails were delivered, or digitally encrypted and/or signed documents are decrypted/read only by the intended etc. If the electronic transaction was tampered with you will know.

That is a solved problem.

With election systems, however, the part about tampering is not fully solved. Most voting systems have as their corner stone, the secrecy of the vote. You know what you voted for, but you cannot check that the eventual accounting of the votes were not tampered with – because, in the simple case, you would be revealing your vote. I have always told people what I voted for because I feel voting secrecy encourages the possiblities of fraud, but I can also understand the real threat if someone is compelled to vote in a particular way under duress and threat.

Tamper-resistance and anonymous validation are active areas of research and
some of the thought leaders like David Chaum (www.davidchaum.com) have some
practical ideas that could address them, but issues of trust still remain.

I’d invite Mr Lee to consider attending and engaging with the local tech and cyber security community under the auspices of the Singapore Computer Society. The criticality of the source code of the electronic voting systems being open source, verifiable, rebuildable and repeatable, is but a small step in the direction of trust.

The MSM’s forum editor wrote back saying that they will publish my letter with some edits.

Here’s what was published today, 13th December.

letter-photo.jpg

 

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Defending my country


As a former reservist officer, I am deeply concerned with the kind of language and propaganda that is being put out by our government leaders around the issue about marine incursions in the seas off of the Tuas area.

The Malaysian federal and Johor State government apparently unilaterally extended the boundaries of the Johor Port that impinges on previously agreed upon boundaries. From what I can tell as a civilian, there are ongoing discussions and representations being made from Singapore to Malaysia on this issue. If Malaysia stays in their course, as has been with previous territorial issues (the Batu Putih/Pedra Blanca dispute resolved by the International Court of Justice in 2008), Singapore and Malaysia would just bring this to the ICJ for resolution. This will take time and yes, in the meantime, the status quo should remain. Just as the Batu Putih/Pedra Blanca issue was resolved in Singapore’s favour, I am sure this time around, the ICJ will rule correctly (not necessarily in Singapore’s favour if you thought that was what correctly meant). On the balance of probability and consideration, the waters have to be kept free for use by commercial vessels so that commerce can happen. Given the relative narrowness of those waters, joint management might be appropriate. There are plenty of easy solutions. It is a matter of will and wanting to do that right thing.

This is how we’ve always managed disputes between Singapore and Malaysia – it is a inseparable con-joined twins who will bicker about the smallest of things, but get over it and move forward.

It therefore alarms me to see the kinds of one-up-manship that is being done by part of representatives of the Singapore government. Almost all of those doing are what we call paper generals – they were SAF generals who got picked up by the ruling PAP and thrust into politics and given ministerial and similar posts. To such people, like a hammer which sees everything as a nail, their gut reaction could be to consider the use of the military if needed. No, they have not said that they will, but I just took a look at a video that is being shared out by these PAP generals on, wait for it, wait for it, Facebook. And in case it is taken down, here’s a screenshot:

Screenshot from 2018-12-10 20-57-16

In order to watch the video you’ll have to log into that dreaded place called Facebook. I did log in and downloaded the video so that should it disappear somehow, a copy will survive. I will not post it here though. The video has minimum spoken audio, has a dark background music and text-based narration.

Here’s the transcript:

“Recent development in Malaysia are testing our bilateral ties.

They are: Waters off Tuas, Johor and Seletar Airspace and Water Agreement.

1. Waters off Tuas: Boundaries are beyond what they claimed arbitrarily in, 1979. Tuas reclamation works do not impact the boundaries. Malaysian government boats and armed vessels have intruded into our waters, conducted unauthorised, unlawful activities under international law and have anchored there. Dangerous manoeuvres may cause accidents to happen [this part is an audio of a RSN commander: “Jabatan Laut. This is RSS Independence, may I know you intention? you are passing very close, uh, starboard to starboard, and not adhering to code, eh.”] Singapore has been restraining herself. Why is Malaysia doing this?

2. Seletar and Johor Airspace. Air Traffic Control Services delegated to Singapore since 1974. It was never about sovereignty but air safety. Seletar Airport to adopt Instrument Landing System (ILS) which is safer and more efficient and will have no impact on Johor or Pasir Gudang’s development. Singapore notified Malaysia of this in December 2017 but received no response. Why is Malaysia doing this?

3. Water Agreement Malaysia lost its right to review in 1987. Singapore even built a dam in Linggiu and provides water for Singapore and Johor. We even sell treated water to Johor at very low rates and above stipulated volume. Why is Malaysia doing all this?

Pressure tactics? To distract attention from domestic issues? To test the mettle of our leadership? To destabilise Singapore? To create racial divide? To test our racial harmony and unity? What must we Singaporeans DO? Stay calm, stay firm. SAF and security agencies are ready to defend. Be psychologically prepared for the long haul. Help fellow Singaporeans understand the situation. Never take our survival, sovereignty and success for granted. STAY UNITED!”

There you have it. The text along with a haunting audio track that Shazam says is similar to “Identifier by Minemice” gives it an overall sense of danger and mystery.

Reading the text above puts chills down my spine. Why is the Speaker of Parliament posting videos like that? Who created it? What’s the ulterior motive? Mind you, the Speaker was a former general. And so is the chap commonly referred to as Kee Chiu – another paper general – also making oblique references to “troops deployed for the Batu Putih/Pedra Blanca” dispute etc.

What is very telling is the sentence in the video “To test the mettle of our leadership?” in which all that was shown was Kee Chiu and Heng Swee Keat both wearing their PAP badges and uniform. This is a classic way to subtly and subconsciously influence people who watch the video that there can only be one set of leaders (from the PAP) and that there can’t be anyone else.

The video is a clever use of images, text and foreboding music to instill and convey a sense of uncertainty.

Singaporeans are much cleverer than the PAP believes. There will be – if you look at the comments in the Speaker of Parliament’s post – some who are willing to take up arms even though he “ended his reservist at 40”. These types of jingoisms are really not needed. Get to the negotiation table and sort it out.

The so called “4th Generation (of the PAP)” leadership does not seem to know how to manage a spat. They seem to want to go low not high. They are using the platform that they accuse of spreading inuendoes, conflating issues, as an echo chamber, a filter bubble and potential falsehoods to do pretty much that – now that they think they have something to flog.

Since I don’t watch nor read local MSM – doing only when I get prompted – I don’t know if that questionable video was played on those platforms. I hope that it did not happen (yet), because if it did, that is a serious step in trying to brainwash Singaporeans.

It is not welcome and should be stopped. Immediately. The PAP “4g” leadership is delving on a simplistic form of agitprop.

Tech tip: The animated GIF at the head of this post was created from a video I saw that someone had superimposed Singapore’s and Malaysia’s flag on two chaps in Europe somewhere that were giving the middle finger to each other. I thought it was funny enough and appropriate to include it here. I converted the mp4 of the original video to an animated GIF using the instructions here, copying the exact section here in case that site disappears.

Screenshot from 2018-12-10 22-46-08