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Dutch ban voting computers over eavesdropping fear

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The risk of eavesdropping has driven the Dutch government to ban electronic voting computers from future elections.

The Ministry of Internal Affairs says that the development of safer voting computers has "insufficient added value over voting by paper and pencil". Dutch election officials will return to using paper ballots instead.

The decision is a victory for the obliquely-named Dutch We Don't Trust Voting Computers Foundation, which in the past demonstrated that many Dutch e-voting machines could be easily intercepted from 20 to 30 metres away.

Dutch intelligence service AIVD tested over 1200 Sdu e-voting machines in October, and deemed them totally unreliable. The radio signals used by the computers to record votes could be intercepted without difficulty. Minister for Administrative Reform Atzo Nicolai immediately withdrew the permit for the use of the computers in the provincial elections in March 2008.

The Dutch government had decided last year to pull the plug on its e-voting venture, citing the lack of a paper trail as its biggest shortcoming. With no automated paper counting solution deployed, the Dutch will have to revert back to the humble pencil.

A group of experts headed by professor Bart Jacobs told Dutch site Webwereld that "even with meticulous testing it would have been almost impossible to safeguard printers against eavesdropping".

Voting machine manufacturer Nedap says it is disappointed by the decision. "It would have been technically possible to prevent eavesdropping altogether," the company says. "And now that we return to paper voting, isn't there a risk voters can be filmed with webcams?" ®

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