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ARLINGTON, Va. — In the wake of criticism about security, the Pentagon has scrapped a pilot program that would have facilitated Internet voting for up to 100,000 overseas U.S. citizens, a Pentagon spokeswoman said Thursday.

The system would have tested whether it would work for the up to 6 million Americans living overseas.

Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz canceled the program for this November’s general election following a report by computer science experts who detailed security risks that could taint upcoming elections or lead to stolen identity information.

“If we can’t guarantee the legitimacy of the election results, we don’t want to use the system,” Pentagon spokeswoman Maj. Sandra Burr said of the Secure Electronic Registration and Voting Experiment, or SERVE.

A few weeks ago, the Pentagon maintained the system would be safe and that necessary precautions were in place to circumvent possible attacks.

“The concerns are not new,” Pentagon spokesman Glenn Flood had said. “There is no 100 percent security except in not doing it, and we’re doing it. There’s no 100 percent security guarantee, whether it’s the security of this building or the Internet, but we feel we have more than adequate procedures in place to protect the integrity of the election process and the program.”

But on Jan. 30, Wolfowitz sent a memo to David Chu, Undersecretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, noting his hesitancy over the program and the lack of definitive security measures, Burr said.

“Because the danger of successful large-scale attacks is so great, we reluctantly recommend shutting down the development of SERVE and not attempting anything like it in the future until both the Internet and the world’s home computer infrastructure have been fundamentally redesigned, or some other unforeseen security breakthroughs appear,” the four computer experts wrote in their report.

“We all share the desire of the Pentagon and Congress to facilitate voting for the military, but you’re not doing anyone any favors to have them voting on an insecure system,” co-author Barbara Simons had said during an interview.

SERVE would have been available only to U.S. citizens living overseas, and only to registered voters in the seven states that have volunteered to be part of the online program. The states are Arkansas, Florida, Hawaii, North Carolina, South Carolina, Utah, and Washington.

Elections are much too important — and final — to risk an experimental program when other methods such as absentee ballots are available, Burr said.

“The key is that we cannot guarantee the legitimacy of election results right now,” Burr said. “This does not close doors to other methods, just to SERVE. He allowed the [Federal Voting Assistance Program] office to continue looking for other technological applications for election voting over the Internet."


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