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Online Voting and the Digital Divide

Abstract: More and more Americans are tapping into the Internet in their search for convenience and expedience. One service that offers both of these values, and more, is online voting. However, it is not as simple as point and click. Studies show an inequality in the ability to access the Internet across socioeconomic class and race. This Digital Divide is a major concern in the development of an online voting system, and authors of this new technology must take care not to let these existing inequalities compromise democracy. This paper takes an in-depth look at these challenging issues, and concludes with some suggestions to solve them.

Today, it is possible to manage bank accounts, purchase goods, and attend classes – all simultaneously and from the comfort of your own living room! The technology that supports these Internet services is being applied to improve services in practically every sector of society. The government sector, in particular, now has online voting. This recent advancement has the capacity of delivering democracy into the homes of every American. But while allowing citizens to submit online ballots from their homes has many benefits, we must also address its implications, especially in the area of equality.

The ability to vote online has great potential. Salient benefits include expediency and accuracy – qualities that may have prevented the nightmarish experience of Election 2000. In that election, thousands of votes in Florida, and elsewhere, were tallied incorrectly, or not at all. Obsessive news reports about the “hanging chad” and disenfranchised voters cast doubts on who really won the Presidency. The faults of the ballot system, which have always existed, were mad…

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…com, 23 Feb 2001.,2822,53066,00.html

23. Kantor, Jodi. “Obstacles to E-Voiting.” 8 Nov 1999. The, 23 Feb 2001.,1153,7403,00.html

24. Weisberg, Jacob. “Will Internet Voting be good news for American democracy?” 28 Oct 1999. CNN News, 23 Feb 2001.

25. “Net reaches over half of U.S. adults.” 2001. Associated Press, 23 Feb 2001.

26. Kantor, Jodi. “Internet voting is to democracy what is to books.” 9 Nov 1999., 23 Feb 2001.

27. “World Wide Web User Statistics.” 1999. Accessed 28 Feb 2001.

Cookies Assist Users While Robbing Privacy

Abstract: Internet cookies have been around for a few years now, and have become quite widespread in usage. However, their use has attracted criticism from some privacy experts. They claim that cookies give a web site’s administrator power to monitor an internet user’s travel through the internet – a blatant infraction into the anonymity on the internet. What is being done to counter this claim is also discussed.

A cookie is a small text file placed by a Web server on a client’s browser for identification purposes. This small text file (usually less than 1K in size) can contain information to identify a user to the Web server.1 The cookie is given during the first meeting between the browser and the Web page. During each subsequent connection to the Web server, the cookie is sent by the browser to the server along with requests for Web pages.2

This small transfer of a cookie1 may greatly convenience the internet user. By sending this identifying piece of information, the Web server can identify and tailor its Web content to its user. This enables the webmaster to develop a number of useful features such as custom formatting of the Web site, offering custom services, alerting the user of new material since last visit, keeping track of shopping baskets, etc.3

Cookies are designed to hide the user’s identity and prevent harm to the user’s computer. Although each browser holds cookies from different Web sites, Web servers can only retrieve cookies that were set by the same server, and no foreign web site access these cookies2.4 Furthermore although cookies reside on a user’s computer, they cannot do any harm to the system as they are created as non-executable text files.5

It is the case, however, that many users fear cookies as a privacy threat to their identity. They believe that personal information can be disseminated to unknown sites with unknown consequences.6 This turns out to be only a minor threat since cookies are available only to the webmaster of the Web site that set the cookies in the first place.3 And as is the case, cookies are mostly comprised of identity information which can only be understood by the Web server which set them.7 What is at issue, however, is how Web companies can monitor, or ‘track’ where a user goes while on the internet. Web site tracking is useful because it allows webmasters to view how a user moves around its site, and based on this information to improve the Web site.

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