Diebold Won't Sue Students

A coalition of college students who had disseminated damaging internal memos of Diebold Election Systems won a major victory last week when the company backed down from threats to sue.

“We’ve made the decision not to move forward on pursuing copyright infringements,” Diebold spokesperson David K. Bear said yesterday.

A motion filed by Diebold in U.S. District Court last Monday appeared to represent a white flag in the company’s effort to prevent students from posting the private and damaging memoranda on the Internet.

At least 87 people, most of them college students—and two of them Harvard undergraduates—have made the documents available on university-hosted websites in a growing movement aimed at highlighting alleged flaws in Diebold’s electronic voting machines.

The memoranda were obtained by a hacker in March 2003.

In one memorandum from April 23, 1999, an employee acknowledges a flaw in one of the company’s electronic ballots.

“I don’t expect you will see a fix in time for the election,” the employee writes, “since it is tomorrow.”

Diebold will not comment on the memoranda but has said that any imperfections in their systems have subsequently been fixed.

Diebold has claimed its memoranda are protected under copyright laws, which it says protect internal corporate documents.

In last Monday’s motion, Diebold cited “the widespread availability of the stolen materials” as a reason the company decided against pursuing litigation.

Bear, Diebold’s spokesperson, said the company would not rule out the possibility of litigation in the future.

“We certainly reserve our right to protect our proprietary information,” he said.

Diebold’s motion may render unnecessary a circuit court ruling on the merits of each side’s copyright claims.

Two Swarthmore College students and a non-profit Internet service provider had filed suit against Diebold in hopes of securing their rights to post the documents.

A conference call scheduled for today by that case’s judge, Jeremy D. Fogel, could resolve the suit.

“[Diebold’s] claims were not going to prevail in court,” predicted John G. Palfrey ’94, executive director of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School.