Briefs: County in Silicon Valley Lets Voters Register With E-Signatures

University of California, Berkeley, Asks Incoming Students for DNA; Germany Asks Google to Hand Over Private Data

by / May 18, 2010
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County in Silicon Valley Allows Voters to Register With E-Signatures

The heart of California's Silicon Valley -- Santa Clara County -- made history last week when it allowed eight county residents to register to vote by signing their names on mobile touchscreen devices.

It was the first time an American election official nationally allowed anyone to register to vote in such a manner, which can be done on iPads, iPhones and other mobile touchscreen devices. Voting rights advocates see the signatures as a major milestone in paving the way for millions of people to register to vote, but critics worry that digital signatures may prove hard to verify and provide opportunity for voter fraud.

County Registrar Jesse Durazo gave the OK for the electronic signatures after the county board of supervisors and county counsel gave their blessings to the proposal by Verafirma, a Silicon Valley company that's been stymied in court in its efforts to allow Californians to sign initiative petitions on mobile devices rather than on paper petitions in front of businesses.

While there have been some concerns raised about possible voter fraud, along with privacy and security issues related to e-signatures, Verafirma's founders point out that Wells Fargo Bank is so confident in its technology that it allows customers to open a bank account with an electronic signature.

The new technology may also be beyond the current election laws' language, as California's election codes don't mention devices like iPhones or the iPad. But unless someone sues to stop the county registrar from registering voters, the e-signatures will stand.

-- Source: The San Jose Mercury News

UC Berkeley Asks Incoming Students for DNA

Incoming freshmen and transfer students at University of California, Berkeley (UC Berkeley) will be asked to voluntarily submit a DNA sample this year, as part of a confidential project with aspirations of helping students make diet and lifestyle decisions.

In the past, students received a fairly typical welcome book from the College of Letters and Science's On the Same Page program, but this year students will be asked for a cotton swab DNA sample.

The swabs will come with two bar code labels -- one will be put on the DNA sample and the other is to be kept for the student's own records. Once tested, the DNA sample will show a student's ability to tolerate alcohol, absorb folic acid and metabolize lactose. The results will be put into a secure online database where students can retrieve their results by using their bar code.

UC Berkeley Genetics, Genomics and Development Professor Jasper Rine will oversee the process, which will hopefully encourage students to be more hands-on with their college experience.

Previously incoming students were advised to read Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma and Stephen Hawking's A Briefer History of Time as behavior guides.

-- Source: KTVU

Germany Asks Google to Hand Over Private Data

Google is under increased pressure in Europe over its practice of collecting private data from unsecured home wireless networks. A German regulator threatened legal action if the company didn't turn over a hard drive for inspection Tuesday.

The German demand underscores the seriousness of the quandary Google now faces after its admission last Friday that it had stored snippets of Web sites and personal e-mails from people around the world while compiling its Street View photo archive.

Google has been given until May 26 to hand over one of the hard drives used to collect and store information in Germany, where Street View isn't yet available, according to Johannes Caspar, data protection supervisor for the city-state of Hamburg, where Google's German headquarters are located.

Google repeated its offer to destroy the unsecured wireless area network (WLAN) data in conjunction with regulators through a spokesman but stopped short of saying it would hand over a hard drive, allowing regulators to see for the first time the kind of data that had been collected.

Viviane Reding, the European Union (EU) justice commissioner, criticized Google for not cooperating with German privacy officials. "It is not acceptable that a company operating in the EU does not respect EU rules," she said in a statement released by her office.

Source: The New York Times



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