Government-Citizen Online Activity Archive

Google to keep deep records of political ads served on their platforms

Articles

Australian House of Representatives ballot box - press picture courtesy of Australian Electoral Commission

Are you sure you are casting your vote without undue influence?

Google Releases Political Ad Database and Trump Is the Big Winner | Gizmodo

From the horse’s mouth

Google

Introducing A New Transparency Report For Political Ads (Blog Post)

Transparency Report – Political Advertising On Google (Currently relevant to federal elections in the USA)

Advertising Policies Help Page – Political Advertising (Key details apply to USA Federal elections only)

My Comments

If you use YouTube as a free user or surf around the Internet to most ad-facilitated blogs and Websites like this one, you will find that the display ads hosted are provided by an ad network owned or managed by Google. Similarly, some free ad-funded mobile apps may be showing ads that are facilitated through Google’s ad networks. Similarly, some advertisers pay to have links to their online resources placed at the top of the Google search-results list.

Online ad - to be respected like advertising in printed media

Google to keep records of political ads that appear on these sites so they have the same kind of respect as traditional print ads

Over the past few years, there has been a strong conversation regarding the authenticity of political advertising on the online space thanks to the recent election-meddling and fake news scandals. This concern has been shown due to the fact that the online space easily transcends jurisdictional borders and isn’t as regulated as traditional broadcast, print and away-from-home advertising especially when it comes to political advertising.

Then there is also the fact that relatively-open publishing platforms can be used to present content of propaganda value as editorial-grade content. The discovery of this content can be facilitated through search engines and the Social Web whereupon the content can even be shared further.

Recently Facebook have taken action to require authentication of people and other entities behind ads hosted on their platforms and Pages or Public Profiles with high follower counts. This ins in conjunction to providing end-users access to archival information about ad campaigns ran on that platform. This is part of increased efforts by them and Google to gain control of political ads appearing on their platforms.

But Google have taken things further by requiring authentication and proof of legitimate residency in the USA for entities publishing political ads through Google-managed ad platforms that targeting American voters on a federal level. As well, they are keeping archival information about the political ads including the ads’ creatives, who sponsored the ad and how much is spent with Google on the campaign. They are even making available software “hooks” to this data for researchers, concerned citizens, political watchdog groups and the like to draw this data in to their IT systems for further research.

If you view a political ad in the USA on this site or other sites that use display advertising facilitated by Google, you will find out who is behind that ad if you click or tap on the blue arrow at the top right hand corner of that ad. Then you will see the disclosure details under the “Why This Ad” heading. Those of you who use YouTube can bring up this same information if you click or tap on the “i” (information) or three-dot icon while the ad is playing.

Google are intending to roll these requirements out for state-level and local-level campaigns within the USA as well as rolling out similar requirements with other countries and their sub-national jurisdictions. They also want to extend this vendor-based oversight towards issues-based political advertising which, in a lot of cases, makes up the bulk of that kind of advertising.

Personally I would also like to see Google and others who manage online ad platforms be able to “keep in the loop” with election-oversight authorities like the USA’s Federal Election Commission or the Australian Electoral Commission. Here, it can be used to identify inordinate political-donation and campaign-spending activity that political parties and others are engaging in.

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Google and Facebook are starting to bring accountability to political advertising

Articles

Australian House of Representatives ballot box - press picture courtesy of Australian Electoral Commission

Are you sure you are casting your vote without undue influence? (Courtesy of Australian Electoral Commission)

Facebook announces major changes to political ad policies | NBC News

Facebook reveals new political ad policies in wake of U.S. election | VentureBeat

What Can and Can’t You Do with Political Advertising on Facebook? | Spatially

Google Joins Facebook In Banning All Ads Related To Ireland’s Big Abortion Vote | Gizmodo

From the horse’s mouth

Facebook

Update on Our Advertising Transparency and Authenticity Efforts {Press Release)

Facebook will not be accepting referendum related ads from advertisers based outside of Ireland {Press Release)

Google

Supporting election integrity through greater advertising transparency (Blog Post)

My Comments

Over the last five months, a strong conversation has risen surrounding electioneering and political advertising on the online platforms including social media and online advertising.

The trends concerning this activity is that the political advertising spend is moving away from traditional print and broadcast media towards online media as we make more use of highly-portable computing devices to consume our information and entertainment.

Issues that have also been raised include the use of fake comments and pre-programmed auto-responding “bots” as part of political campaigns. This is alongside the rise of very divisive political campaigns during the 2016 Brexit and US Presidential election cycles that played on racial and religious prejudices. There is also the fact that nation states with improper intentions are seeing the idea of poisoning the information flow as another weapon in their cyber-warfare arsenal.

It has also been facilitated through the use of highly-focused data-driven campaign-targeting techniques based on factors like race, gender, location and interests, with this practice being highlighted in the Cambridge Analytica saga that caught up Facebook and Twitter.

As well, the online advertising and social media platforms have made it easy to create and maintain an advertising or editorial campaign that transcends jurisdictional borders. This is compared to traditional media that would be dependent on having the advertising material pass muster with the media outlet’s advertising staff in the outlet’s market before it hits the presses or the airwaves.

This issue will become more real with the use of addressable TV advertising which is currently practised with some advertising-based video-on-demand services and some cable-TV platforms but will become the norm with traditional linear TV being delivered through through the increasing use of interactive-TV platforms.

This technology would facilitate “hyper-targeting” of political campaigns such as municipal-level or postcode/ZIP-code targeting yet maintain the same “air of legitimacy” that the traditional TV experience provides, making it feasible to destabilise elections and civil discourse on the local-government level.

Election-oversight authorities in the various jurisdictions like the Australian Electoral Commission or the UK’s Electoral Commission have been doing battle with the online trend because most of the legislation and regulation surrounding political and election activities has been “set in stone” before the rise of the Internet. For example, in most jurisdictions, you will see or hear a disclosure tag after a political advertisement stating which organisation or individual was behind that ad. Or there will be financial reporting and auditing requirements for the election campaigns that take place before the polls.

Facebook and Google are having to face these realities through the use of updated advertising-platform policies which govern political advertising, But Facebook applies this to candidate-based campaigns and issues-based campaigns while Google applies this to candidate-based campaigns only at the time of writing.

Firstly there is a prohibition on political advertising from entities foreign to the jurisdiction that the ad is targeted for. This is in line with legislation and regulation implemented by most jurisdictions proscribing foreign donations to political campaigns affecting that jurisdiction.

This is augmented through a requirement for political advertisers to furnish proof of identity and residence in the targeted jurisdiction. In the case of Facebook, they apply this policy to pages and profiles with very large followings as well as ads. Similarly, they implement a postcard-based proof-of-residence procedure where they send a postcard by snail mail to the user’s US-based home / business address to very presence in the USA.

Facebook augments this requirement by using artificial-intelligence to flag if an ad is political or not, so they can make sure that the advertiser is complying with the requirements for political advertising on this platform.

Like with traditional media, political ads on both these platforms will be required to have a disclosure tag. But Facebook goes further by making this a hyperlink that end-users can click on to see details like verification documents, why the viewer saw the ad along with a link to the sponsoring organisation’s Facebook Page. This has more utility than the slide shown at the end of a TV or online ad, the voice-announcement at the end of a radio ad or small text at the bottom of a print-media ad or billboard poster which most of these tags represent.

Both of the Internet titans will also make sure details about these campaigns are available and transparent to end-users so they know what is going on. For example, Facebook requires advertisers to maintain a Facebook Page before they buy advertising on any of the Facebook-owned platforms. This will have a “View Ads” tab which includes details about targeting of each current and prior campaign with a four-year archive allowance.

Google has taken things further by making sure that political organisations, politicians, the media and journalists are aware of the resources they have to assure data security for their campaigns and other efforts. Here, they have prepared a “Protect Your Election” Webpage that highlights the resources that they provide that are relevant for each kind of player in a political campaign. This includes Project Shield to protect Websites against distributed denial-of-service attacks, along with enhanced security measures available to operators of Google Accounts associated with critical data.

Both companies have been implementing these procedures for North America with Facebook trying them out in Canada then “cementing” them in to the USA before the midterm Congress election cycle there. Both companies then took action to suspend political ads from foreign entities outside Ireland during the election cycle for the Eighth Amendment abortion referendum taking place in that country. Here, they have applied the prohibition until the close of polls on May 25 2018. Let’s not forget that these standards will be gradually rolled out in to other jurisdictions over time.

But what I would like to see is for companies who run online advertising and social-media activity to liaise strongly with election-oversight officials in the various jurisdictions especially if it affects a currently-running poll or one that is to take place in the near future. This is in order to advise these officials of any irregularities that are taking place with political advertising on their online platforms or for the officials to notify them about issues or threats that can manifest through the advertising process.

 

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Seattle starts attempts to regulate online political advertising

Article Seattle Space Needle photo by Chris Noland (Wikimedia Commons)

Seattle demands Facebook disclose campaign ad information | Engadget

Seattle says Facebook violated a political advertising law | FastCompany

My Comments

In most of the Western democracies, the election process is subjected to oversight by various local, regional or federal government election-oversight departments. These departments oversee the campaign activities that the political parties or candidates engage in during the election cycle; and this includes oversight of the kind of advertising that is being shown to the populace as part of a campaign.

As well, traditional radio and TV broadcasters, whether they are public or private, free-to-air or subscription-driven, are subject to oversight by federal or regional broadcast authorities. These authorities also work with the election-oversight authorities to oversee radio or TV election-campaign advertising in the context of the election process’s integrity.

All this oversight is to achieve a level playing field for the candidates and issues along with identifying and working against sources of undue influence upon the voters. This oversight also enforces various rules and practices regarding pre-poll campaign blackouts, mandatory sponsor identification for campaign messages and reporting of when and where the advertising appears.

But the online advertising platforms including the Social Web have, for a long time, escaped the stringent oversight of the various governments’ election-oversight and broadcasting-oversight authorities and this has recently raised questions in relationship to the integrity of a number of recent polls around the Western world such as the US Presidential Election.

Here, questions have been raised about the presence of troll ads sponsored by the Russian Government appearing on Facebook concurrent with the UK Brexit poll, the US Presidential Election and recent national elections that took place in France and Germany. Now the Seattle local government are raising issues with Facebook regarding advertising that was booked through that platform regarding their council elections. This was about Facebook violating a city bylaw that required advertising platforms like newspapers, radio or TV broadcasters to disclose who is buying political advertising targeted at that election.

One of the issues that are being raised include the ability with online advertising platforms for an individual or organisation no matter where they are located to target particular geographic areas down to the size of a suburb or town; or other particular user classes based on one or more particular attributes with a particular message.

It can become more disconcerting whenever firms in the TV and video industry implement directly-addressable advertising as part of their TV-advertising product mix, which allows for advertising campaigns to be directed at particular households or neighbourhoods like what happens with online advertising. This is because households seem to give a significant amount of trust to what is shown on the big screen in the living room when it comes to advertising.

Another is for the advertising to be presented as though it is part of legitimate editorial content in order to lower one’s “advertising-awareness” radar. This can be through comments that appear in a social-network’s main user feed or spam comments inserted in a comment trail or discussion forum. Similarly bloggers, podcasters and other influencers could also be paid to post political content supporting a particular candidate by a sponsoring entity.

This could breed situations where misinformation could be targeted at a “suburb of disadvantage” or an ethnically-focused community in order for them not to show up to vote or to vote against a candidate they are normally sure about and who represents their interests. This situation is considered of high risk in the USA where the election process supports voluntary attendance along with a significant number of citizens there not being “politically literate” and able to cast their votes astutely.

If Seattle tests this issue before the USA’s judiciary, other jurisdictions within and beyond the USA could watch these cases to observe how they can regulate online content and advertising in relation to the integrity of civic life.

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New online-abuse Website launched in the UK

Articles

UK government tackles online abuse with anti-trolling website | We Live Security blog (ESET)

Cyberbullies: Anti-trolling website launched to help victims | The Independent

Government launches anti-trolling website to help victims of online abuse | The Guardian

Previous Coverage

What can you do about people who use the Social Web to menace

Dealing with Internet trolls

From the horse’s mouth

Stop Online Abuse (UK-based)

My Comments

The UK government have launched a Website focusing on online abuse and how to deal with it, including legal remedies and resources.

It is focused more towards women and the LGBT (gay/lesbian/bi/trans) community who are facing these issues because, from various surveys, these user groups are often copping it the most. This covers online abouse related to domestic violence, sexism and sexual harassment, along with homophobia and related anti-LGBT abuse. But there are other situations where people do suffer in silence such as general racism, issues-focused or business-level disputes.

I see the “Stop Online Abuse” website applying to all situations where the Internet is involved and a lot of the commentary is very generic. But I do see some limitations with the legal remedies because there may be difficulties with applying them when situations happen across jurisdictions as is the norm with the Internet.

For example, the crime of “sending messages using any public electronic communications network such as Twitter or Facebook, which are grossly offensive or of an indecent, obscene or menacing character” that is part of the UK’s Communications Act 2003 may have a legal equivalent in your jurisdiction. This may be in the form of one or more national communications statute that proscribes the use of a communications service or “common carriage service” to harass others. Similarly, there are court injunctions that were cited for the UK like the Family Law Act 1996 Non-Molestation Order or the Protection From Harassment Act 1997 restraining order that have equivalents under your jurisdiction’s criminal, civil or family law but with different names.

It is worth contacting your local citizen’s advice bureau or similar government or voluntary organisation for more resources. Infact, locating an organisation that specialises in your particular circumstances like a domestic-violence support organisation may provide you with better information suited to your exact needs.

Similarly, it is a wise move for these organisations to “bone up” on the issue of online abuse so they can provide the right advice to suit their clients’ situations and needs. National, regional and local governments along with the judiciary can also see this site as a chance to provide a Web-hosted “one-stop shop” for their constituents to know more about these issues. This is in addition to creating legislative remedies for online-abuse problems. As well, as each case is litigated in a family, criminal or civil context, the knowledge created from the legal action can be used to tackle this situation better in the courtroom.

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Berlin creates a smartphone app to tackle neo-Nazism

Article Flag of Germany

La ville de Berlin lance une application «contre les nazis» | La Figaro (French language | Langue Française)

From the horse’s mouth

Berlin Against Nazis (Berlin Gegen Nazis)

Press Release (German Language / Deutsche Sprache)

My Comments

Another smartphone app has been developed for the community good, this time in Germany. Here, it is a notification app to distribute information about the issue of neo-Nazism to people who live in Berlin.

Samsung Galaxy Note 4 press picture courtesy of Samsung

Smartphones are being seen as activist tools even with custom apps

“Against Nazis” (“Gegen Nazis”), which this fully-free app is called, serves more as a bulletin-board app which shows what is going on around town concerning neo-Nazi activity through the use of push notifications and an interactive map. Through these technologies, this information is distributed effectively real-time. This app allows users to act on the information in order to show solidarity against the neo-Nazi activity that is going on near them or to effectively strengthen the network’s activity. This app has been delivered in German, English and Turkish because of Germany having a distinct presence of Turkish people.

It has been developed by the “Berlin Gegen Nazis” (Berlin Against Nazis) network which is supported by the Berlin local government. This was brought on by a member of this network who was engaged in an anti-Nazi march in Rudolf Hess’s home town when a far-right group effectively took over that march.

The neo-Nazi groups still maintain a presence in Germany although they have a low impact on the national polls and on Berlin’s polls. In relation to Berlin, they have presence in poorer areas of the city like Schöneweide in the former East Berlin. It is also known that people who lived in the former East-Germany areas were soft towards the extreme-right ideology.

This is another way where the mobile phone platforms are being used for the public good especially due to the ease of access that these platforms provide. It also involves creating an information-delivery backbone which is cost-effective for these community organisations.

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Doncare has launched a mobile-phone app to help people in domestic-violence situations

Article

Doncare launches LiveFree App to fight domestic violence | The Weekly Review

From the horse’s mouth

Doncare Community Services

Press Release (PDF)

Facebook Page

App Site (iTunes App Store)

My Comments

Doncare Community Services, along with Doncaster Rotary Club, have just launched an iPhone app that provides information about domestic and relationship violence. This provides the general information that women need to know about handling these situations along with knowledge of legal and similar resources they can avail themselves of.

A typical situation that concerns online domestic-violence resources is that these resources are typically furnished as Web pages which can yield a privacy risk for the victim of this violence due to the fact that Web browsers list what you have browsed. This is a key risk for  lot of these victims who live in a highly-controlled abusive relationship. Here, the perpetrator is often likely to check on recent Web-browsing activity that the person has done on the computer equipment used in their home as part of wanting to know what they think and do as well as whom they see. These people even have to do this browsing from their workplace’s computer, a friend’s computer or a publicly-accessible computer like one installed in a library or café.

The native mobile app has the advantage that they can download the app from the platform’s app store, use it and delete it quickly if they fear that the perpetrator is snooping around their phone. Then they re-download the app from the app store as and when they can.

One limitation about this app is that it is focused on resources and legal options that are available and relevant to Victoria, Australia. An improvement that I would have would be to download information about options available in other jurisdictions, something that can be provided during the setup phase or at a later point. This effort could be positioned as part of a localisation effort that would take place during the app’s lifecycle.

At least this is an example of what can be done by family-violence support organisations regarding using the smartphone and tablets that people own. This is where a free, easily-downloaded, easily-uninstalled app that has this critical information and access to critical resources can be used as a tool by people who are at risk.

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Facebook launches a “Safety Check” program for use during emergencies

Facebook Safety Check iPhone notification screenshot courtesy Facebook

Facebook Safety Check notification on iPhone

Articles

SAFETY CHECK: Facebook Tool Simplifies Users’ Communication During Disasters, Crisis Situations | AllFacebook

Facebook’s new Safety Check lets you tell friends you’re safe when disaster strikes | NakedSecurity (Sophos)

From the horse’s mouth

Facebook

Introducing Safety Check (Press Release)

Feature Description

My Comments

Facebook has just released a system which works during natural disasters or other civil emergencies to allow people to be sure that those friends of theirs who are in the affected areas are OK. This system, known as Safety Check, was born out of a “notice board that Facebook built in to their system during the 2011 Japanese earthquake and tsunami. It would still complement other methods like phoning or texting those you know in the affected areas.

If an emergency happens, this would affect a known geographical area and Facebook would determine if you or your friends are in that area or not. Typically, this would be brought on by emergency services and the media advising Facebook of these situations. This would be based on the City data in your Profile or rough-gauging where you are interacting with it from. It would also use the Last Location details if you opt in to and implement the “Nearby Friends” app as another metric.

Facebook Safety Check dashboard screenshots (regular computer and mobile) courtesy Facebook

Facebook Safety Check dashboard- regular and mobile (handheld) views

Here, you will have a notification that will pop up if you are in the affected area and you mark this as “I’m Safe” if you are OK and safe, or mark as being “Out Of Area” if Facebook miscalculates your location and determines that you are in that area when you are are not in that area. The latter situation can happen for people who are in a large metropolitan area or conurbation and the disaster or crisis situation only affects a small part of that area.

This status will show up to your Friends as a Notification and in their News Feed to reassure them.This is augmented by a special “dashboard” page created for the emergency that shows a filtered list of your friends who are in the area affected by the crisis so you cab know who has “called in” to say they are OK,

This same setup also benefits those of us who are outside the affected areas and want to simply be sure that none of our friends have been affected by that crisis. Here, we receive the News Feeds and Notifications about our Friends who have “checked in” as being safe or out of the affected area and can also see this on that same “dashboard” page.

As for the privacy issue, these updates are only visible to those people who are currently your Facebook Friends when it comes to “coarse” coverage and to those of us who have reciprocally enabled the “Nearby Friends” functionality on Facebook for each other.

Although Facebook is the dominant consumer-facing social network and is able to achieve this goal, various other messaging and social-network services could learn form this setup to allow “at-a-glance” notification of our loved ones’ welfare during natural disasters and other crises.

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Be sure about that property sale being conducted over the Internet is kosher

Article

Scammers sell Canberra house without owner’s knowledge | ABC News (Australia)

My Comments

House

Is the sale of the house meant to be?

Recently, a news item was run by the ABC News concerning scams involving the sale of houses and other real-estate property via the Internet without the owner’s knowledge. This was affecting people who own a property in another country such as a “expat” who is maintaining their former home as a rental property. I also reckon that this can also happen with other high-value high-risk transactions such as the sale of financial instruments, vehicles or collectable rarities.

What was highlighted with the scam was there was no face-to-face contact between the parties. Typically the trasaction was based around email messages, instant-messaging posts or other similar technologies, especially where the contact addresses were always changing. This could highlight the use of disposable email accounts to facilitate the transaction and avoid repudiation.

If you can’t meet the other party face-to-face because you and them are separated by distance, it would be a good idea to make voice contact, whether through the classic telephone setup or through Skype or a similar VoIP setup. I would even go as far as conducting a videocall using Skype, Viber Desktop or a similar technology as a way of confirming the identity and veracity of the other party.

As well, it is essential that you have the documents and signatures concerning the transaction verified. For an international transaction, you could engage the services of your country’s diplomatic presence in the remote country. You may also have to engage an official translator if you are dealing with documents written in a foreign language.

One thing to remember is that if there is undue urgency to complete the transaction or you find that the transaction is on terms that is out of place for one of that kind, including prices that are ridiculously high or low for the property or properties of a similar type, location or condition, you could be falling foul of a scam. As well, seek counsel from experts relating to the kind of transaction that is taking place like real-estate agents, valuers or banks.

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Swiss Customs agency to have own mobile-platform app for travellers

Swiss Customs sign - courtesy Wikimedia CommonsArticle – German Language / Deutsche Sprache

Zollverwaltung plant Smartphone-App | Netzwoche (Switzerland)

Verzollung per Smartphone geplant | PCTipp.ch

From the horse’s mouth

Swiss Customs Authority (Eidgenössische Zollwerwaltung EZV)

App download site

My Comments

The country who turns out the most precise and most premium traditional watches has taken anther step further with e-government. Here, the Swiss customs authority have worked on a mobile-platform app that overseas travellers use for calculating customs duty and VAT on goods they intend to bring back to Switzerland or registering these goods. This is also part of a simplification effort concerning how Swiss citizens have to deal with importing goods privately such as part of online shopping.

There are questions on what level of functionality this app will provide such as provision of other customs-related information or whether this will work just for private importers only with different software for businesses.

But at least it is an example of a customs authority implementing their e-government goals to more than just large importers. It also is a government department implementing the mobile platforms like smartphones and tablets in this role rather than just using a Web view on a desktop computer for this kind of e-government application.

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Venice’s independence referendum is the proving ground for e-voting

Article

E-voting comes of age in Italy with Venice independence referendum | PCWorld

My Comments

Venice - Creative Commons  2.0 - Courtesy of word_virus

Venice – a city that could be legitimising the online vote

As you think of wafting down those canals in Venice in a gondola, or listen to that piece of classical music by Vivaldi who was born in Venice , you don’t know that this area has just been a turning point for a change that could affect how you vote.

This neighbourhood became fed up with the way the Italian state was taxing them but not putting much back in to that area. The sentiment whipped up some interest in the secessionist movement and, due to an increase in the IT industry in that area, the idea came across to run a referendum for secession using the Web.

This required that each person registered to vote receive a unique identity number for that election where they logged in to a Web page using that number to cast their vote online with a computer, tablet or smartphone. There was also the ability to use a regular telephone to cast your vote for the referendum. There were measures in place to detect and prevent voter fraud using this system and it would also have used the SSL technology to assure a secret vote on the Web front.

Of course, the mainstream Italian media, most of whom was controlled by Silvio Berlusconi, called the vote a farce but this was able to be seen in Italy and other areas as a mature proving ground for the Internet-driven e-voting concept. Other areas like Switzerland have implemented e-voting for various referenda and Norway has eyed this technology as something to implement in their municipal elections.

Some countries may still cast doubt over the idea of electronic voting technologies, usually due to breaking perceived “comfort zones” or fear of an increased risk of electoral fraud. Even postal voting in Australia has been considered acceptable only as an “away-from-home” voting option or on a municipal level by all but a minority of councils.

What would be considered important for any online voting system would be to have a unique number for each registered voter relating to a particular election or referendum, not correlating to other “primary-key” numbers used as part of public service or commerce like tax numbers, social-security or public-health (NHS / Medicare) numbers. As well, this number is provided to each voter by regular post with one envelope for each voter even though multiple voters reside in one household such as parents and children of voting age. This would be considered a “use-once” number to assure “one person one-vote one-value” and not relate to the vote being cast.

As well, an online system would have to have highly-scrupulous security measures like use of SSL (https) Web pages with even the option of an on-screen keyboard to deter keystroke logging to assure everyone of the secret ballot. Even making sure that client-side software such as mobile-platform apps are approved would be considered important to avoid the creation of “Trojan horse” apps that work against democracy by betraying users’ votes.

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