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The Perfect Crime

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The Perfect Crime
By Michael Richardson

Sherlock Holmes used to solve them, con artists the world over have been trying to commit them, and books have been written about them--perfect crimes.

A perfect crime has several elements, the most important of which is to not get caught. The ideal perfect crime also has a big payoff to the criminal and attracts public attention, further rewarding the unknown perpetrator with ego gratification.

Perfect crimes like big art heists, large cash thefts from secure facilities, and political assassinations generate publicity, speculation, and sometimes even end up in the folklore. Many perfect crimes fall into the fraud category with various schemes and swindles that enrich the criminal and some even end up memorialized in movies.

Advances in computer technology have given criminals a whole new world to exploit for those technically proficient enough to keep up with the programmers. It is now possible, thanks to electronic voting machines, to steal an election without being caught. Moreso, it is now possible to steal an election without even leaving evidence a crime was committed-the ultimate perfect crime.

In Florida, 18,000 missing votes likely changed the outcome of a Congressional election. A naïve public tries to make excuses for the "undervotes" speculating that maybe the voters decided to boycott the race or were confused by the electronic ballot design on the screen of the electronic voting machines. Some even suggested that innocent "glitches" might be at fault. But a hacker, using self-deleting malicious code to erase votes without detection, gets the satisfaction of altering an election without getting caught or even leaving proof a crime was committed.

Sound farfetched? Not so to the National Institute of Standards and Technology which warns in a just released report, "Potentially, a single programmer could "rig" a major election." Further, the National Institute "does not know how to write testable requirements" to make the paperless voting machines secure.

The alarming report warns of, "the inability, in a practical sense, to test complex systems for errors and intentionally produced fraud." To make it more explicit, the National Institute states, "In principle, a single clever, dishonest programmer in a voting machine company could rig an entire statewide election if the state uses mainly one kind of system."

Never before in the history of crime has such an enormous potential for mischief been present. Think of it. The ability to steal an election, without getting caught or even leaving behind a trace that a crime was committed.

The missing votes in Florida will be blamed on the voters or at most on "glitches" in the voting machines. A forensic analysis will not be able to uncover malicious software code that has already self-deleted. We will never know if the Florida votes were stolen.

Hand counting paper ballots seems like a lot of work and trouble but that is the only way to prevent the Perfect Crime.

[Permission granted to reprint]


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Michael Richardson is a freelance writer based in Boston. Richardson writes about politics, law, nutrition, ethics, and music. Richardson is also a political consultant.

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