Pentagon may lift voting site blockade

Fears of hackers prevent some American expatriates from visiting a U.S. government Web site.

Declan McCullagh Former Senior Writer
Declan McCullagh is the chief political correspondent for CNET. You can e-mail him or follow him on Twitter as declanm. Declan previously was a reporter for Time and the Washington bureau chief for Wired and wrote the Taking Liberties section and Other People's Money column for CBS News' Web site.
Declan McCullagh
2 min read
The U.S. Defense Department said Tuesday that it's trying to find a way to permit American expatriates to connect to an absentee voting site that has been cordoned off because of the risk of hackers.

Internet users in large portions of the world have been blocked from connecting to the voting assistance Web site, which tells absentee voters how to cast ballots in the November election. The list of Internet providers that appear to be blocked includes British Telecom, Wanadoo, Telefonica and China Telecom.

"We're aware of the problem, and we're working on a solution," Pentagon spokeswoman Lt. Col. Ellen Krenke said. "We hope to have a fix in place as soon as possible."

Krenke said that overseas Internet providers are blocked when U.S. government computers detect "any type of probing" coming from their network. She said that for now, U.S. voters can obtain the necessary forms directly from their state election officials or from a U.S. embassy.

The Web site in question is called the Federal Voting Assistance Program and is operated by the Pentagon. It provides information to expatriates and U.S. military members about how to register to vote and request absentee ballots, but does not permit actual online voting.

Wanadoo France, a large Internet provider, confirmed Tuesday that a "small number of the customers" are affected. The company said it has not received any information about the blacklist from the Pentagon and estimates the block has been in place for about 18 months.

A spokeswoman for Democrats Abroad said she was aware that customers of British Telecom and Wanadoo had been affected, and was unimpressed by the claim that the measure would prevent hacking. "I can't see the advantage of hacking the site," she said, explaining that voters still have to order, receive, sign and return their voting forms. "You're not going to change the voting" just by hacking the site.

The group has responded to the Defense Department blockade by creating a separate site, called OverseasVote2004.com, to handle absentee ballot requests.

Lending some urgency to the Pentagon's attempts to lift the restrictions is the fast-approaching Oct. 2 deadline for submitting absentee ballots in some states.

Jonathan Bennett and Graeme Wearden of ZDNet UK reported from London, and Jerome Thorel of ZDNet France reported from Paris.