Online elections get a step closer

Standards body OASIS is expected to publish its final XML schema for online voting later this month, paving the way for online voting

A key standard for online voting is to be released later this month, according to the director of technology strategy in the e-envoy's office, Anwar Choudhury.

The release of the XML election schema, which will provide a consistent way for data used in online voting to be described, will forge the way for people to vote online in general elections.

The schema is one of many being created by the non-profit Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards (OASIS). Although Choudhury did not give an exact date for publication of the schema, he expected it to be ratified at the next meeting of the OASIS standards organisation's election and voter services Technical Committee, on 26 March. Choudhury is the chair of this committee.

The schema, which describes how data is transferred between polling stations and central government, is expected to be adopted by governments around the world, said Choudhury, speaking at the XML & Web Services 2002 conference in London on Tuesday.

However, Choudhury cautioned that the schema not enough on its own for governments to introduce online voting. "It needs a (technical framework) to operate in; without that a schema is just a schema," he said. An essential part of any move to introduce online voting is a national security infrastructure, added Choudhury. "This could be a PKI, or it could be something else -- it would depend on the country involved."

Such a security infrastructure would be used to make sure voters are who they say they are (authentication), to make sure they cannot change their minds once they have voted (non-repudiation) and to make sure that each person can only vote once. Critics say that such an infrastructure would bring with it dangers. Privacy International recently nominated the Electoral Reform Society in its Big Brother Awards ceremony, which is designed to highlight threats to privacy. The Society was nominated for the Most Invasive Project because of its patronage of a report by the Independent Commission on alternative voting methods. "The report provides a woefully scant assessment of the substantial privacy and security threats arising from electronic voting," said the judges at the time.

The UK government is attempting to take a central role in defining XML schemas for online voting and for other government schemas; it is currently working to adopt some 500 schemas, said Choudhury.


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