Five years ago, not long after the founding of Shtetl-Optimized, I blogged about Alex Halderman: my best friend since seventh grade at Newtown Junior High School, now a famous security researcher and a computer science professor at the University of Michigan, and someone whose exploits seem to be worrying at least one government as much as Julian Assange’s.
In the past, Alex has demonstrated the futility of copy-protection schemes for music CDs, helped force the state of California to change its standards for electronic voting machines, and led a spectacular attack against an Internet voting pilot in Washington DC. But Alex’s latest project is probably his most important and politically-riskiest yet. Alex, Hari Prasad of India, and Rop Gonggrijp of the Netherlands demonstrated massive security problems with electronic voting machines in India (which are used by about 400 million people in each election, making them the most widely-used voting system on earth). As a result of this work, Hari was arrested in his home and jailed by the Indian authorities, who threatened not to release him until he revealed the source of the voting machine that he, Alex, and Rop had analyzed. After finally being released by a sympathetic judge, Hari flew to the United States, where he received the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s 2010 Pioneer Award. I had the honor of meeting Hari at MIT during his and Alex’s subsequent US lecture tour.
But the story continues. Earlier this week, after flying into India to give a talk at the International Conference on Information Systems Security (ICISS’2010) in Gandhinagar, Alex and Rop were detained at the New Delhi airport and threatened with deportation from India. No explanation was given, even though the story became front-page news in India. Finally, after refusing to board planes out of New Delhi without being given a reason in writing for their deportation, Alex and Rop were allowed to enter India, but only on the condition that they did so as “tourists.” In particular, they were banned from presenting their research on electronic voting machines, and the relevant conference session was cancelled.
To those in the Indian government responsible for the harassment of Alex Halderman and Rop Gonggrijp and (more seriously) the imprisonment of Hari Prasad: shame on you! And to Alex, Hari, and Rop: let the well-wishes of this blog be like a small, nerdy wind beneath your wings.