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State Voter Registration Databases: Immediate Actions and Future Improvements - Interim Report
Excerpts from a 2006 Study of Voter Registration Databases Relevant to Privacy and Security
The following material is reprinted from the executive summary and the main text of StatewideDatabases of Registered Voters: Study of Accuracy, Privacy, Usability, Security, and Reliability Issues, a 2006 report by the U.S. Public Policy Committee of the Association for Computing Machinery.
2. Accountability should be apparent throughout each VRD.
It should be clear who is proposing, making, or approving changes to the data, the system, or its policies. Security policies are an important tool for ensuring accountability. For example, access control policies can be structured to restrict actions of certain groups or individual users of the system. Further, users’ actions can be logged using audit trails (discussed below). Accountability also should extend to external uses of VRD data. For example, state and local officials should require recipients of data from VRDs to sign use agreements consistent with the government’s official policies and procedures.
3. Audit trails should be employed throughout the VRD.
VRDs that can be independently verified, checked, and proven to be fair will increase voter confidence and help avoid litigation. Audit trails are important for independent verification, which, in turn, makes the system more transparent and provides a mechanism for accountability. They should include records of data changes, configuration changes, security policy changes, and database design changes. The trails may be independent records for each part of the VRD, but they should include both who made the change and who approved the change.
4. Privacy values should be a fundamental part of the VRD, not an afterthought.
Privacy policies for voter registration activities should be based on Fair Information Practices (FIPs), which are a set of principles for addressing concerns about information privacy. FIPs typically address collection limitation, data quality, purpose specification, use limitation, security safeguards, openness, individual participation, and accountability. There are many ways to implement good privacy policies. For example, we recommend that government both limit
necessarily reveal all security problems (and does nothing by itself to eliminate such problems), testing can often identify some remaining failures.
Some of the information in VRDs is, by law, public information, although the specifics of which data items can be regarded as public information vary from state to state. In addition, states often limit the purposes for which such information may be used. Nevertheless, the electronic availability of such information raises concerns about the privacy of that information, because electronic access greatly increases the ease with which it can be made available to anyone, including those who might abuse it.
One of the thorniest issues regarding privacy is the tension it sometimes poses with transparency. In its starkest terms, maintaining privacy involves withholding certain information associated with individuals from public view, while transparency involves the maximum disclosure of information, even if such information is associated with individuals.