The internet of things and the election in the DRC

As we continue moving towards increasingly connected societies, a new term has been coined, “the internet of things”. The term refers to how utilities and appliances today, one way or another, are connected to the internet.

As convenient as this may be to home owners, people who care about efficiency, or your average middle aged white man who wants to show off to the neighbor, it also brings about a handful of challenges related to cyber security.

“How so?” you may ask. Well, if an individual, an enterprise, or a government agency decides to connect all its devices to the same network it creates a lot of potential openings into that network. Consequently, it makes the network very susceptible to an intrusion by a third party, i.e. a hacker. Perhaps the server and the computers are well protected but what about the in-house vending machine or the new fridge?

Like in all areas of society, the threat image is fragmented and diverse. Cyberthreats can take different shapes and forms – whether it’s state or non-state actors, hacker networks or lone wolves – the threats are real. Several western powers have recently been subjected to cyber attacks and attempts at influencing the outcome of elections.

In light of this, it would be understandable to want to take a step back, to do things the old fashioned way. But this is not the case in the DRC. In a somewhat surprising move, before its upcoming December 2018 election (it was supposed to take place in 2016 but has been postponed twice), the government decided to purchase South Korean electronic voting machines. This was a controversial move on several accounts. For one, in a country of over 80 million people plagued by civil war, starvation and humanitarian catastrophes, perhaps there are more urgent needs than electronic voting stations? Secondly, to a predominantly rural population with little formal education, how is this going to facilitate the voting process for the masses? And third, does the DRC have the proper infrastructure in place to ensure that no external actors will meddle in the election? Adding to the controversy is the fact that the DRC has refused to officially accept international election observers.

The questions are many but there are also counter arguments. Those in favor of the machines say that it will facilitate the process for people who cannot read very well, that the “pick and click” technology will therefore be more democratic. Supporters of the move also say that it will speed up the counting process after the election. The DRC is roughly the size of Western Europe and this is said to be a much quicker way to count the votes. Finally, since the method requires less human interaction it is by supporters described as less sensitive to the human factor, in other words errors or corruption.

Since the announcement of the voting machines there have been demonstrations on both sides, largely following party lines. All the while, the international community is crossing its fingers and hoping for a peaceful election and a fair outcome.  

What is your take, good or bad? Are the electronic voting stations perhaps yet another way of leapfrogging development on the African continent? Should states involve more or less electronic tools in democratic processes?