In 2012, a contest for US schools to win a gig by Taylor Swift was hijacked by members of the 4chan website, who piled on its online vote in an attempt to send the pop star to a school for deaf children. Now, imagine a similar stunt being pulled for a general election, if voting could be done online. Far-fetched? Not according to Rick Falkvinge, founder of Sweden’s Pirate party. “Voting over the internet? Would you really want 4chan to decide your next government?” he said, during a debate about democracy and technology in London, organised by the BBC as part of its Democracy Day event. Falkvinge was responding to a question about whether online voting – or even voting from smartphones – would encourage more people to vote. Besides online pranksters, his reservations included the potential ability of governments and security agencies to snoop on people’s online votes.
“Surveillance is so ubiquitous, we are at a crossroads. Yes, technology can be used for good, but we are also in a Big Brother society well beyond the nightmare dystopias of the 1950s,” he said. “Searching online is as close to a mind-reading machine as we’ve ever come. And that is now eavesdropped by governments.
We are arriving at a point where the government has the ability to hold you accountable for how you vote. That is a 180-degree reversal of power.” His fellow panelist Arvind Gupta, head of social media for India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), agreed. “It should be private: your vote is a secret ballot. We have to ensure privacy and the secrecy of the ballot,” he said.
The debate’s co-chairman, technology journalist Bill Thompson, added that “the risks of adopting an unknown technology are so enormous, we may be better to stick to the known restrictions… paper ballots are broken in ways that we understand”