Former MI6 chief warns against introducing electronic voting

Posted On: 
3rd January 2017

The former head of MI6 has warned that introducing electronic voting could leave British elections open to the risk of cyber attack.

A researcher in the US demonstrates how to hack an electronic voting machine
Credit: 
PA

Sir John Sawers said a traditional pencil and paper ballot was "much more secure" than using phones or computers to cast a vote.

But the Commission on Direct Democracy, spearheaded by Commons Speaker John Bercow, has called for electronic voting to be available in time for the next general election in 2020.

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Sir John, who ran MI6 between 2009 and 2014 argued that changing methods would leave the electoral system more open to fraud.

"The more things that go online, the more susceptible you are to cyber attacks," he told the BBC. 

"The only trouble is, the younger generation of people expect to be able to do things remotely and through electronic devices.

"Bizarrely the stubby pencil and piece of paper that you put your cross on in the ballot box is actually much more secure than anything which is electronic."

He said the other problem with the use of technology was a lack of clear international rules on how the digital world is governed.

"One of the big problems we face with cyber is that it hasn't really been discussed internationally about what is an acceptable use of cyber powers and where are the red lines and what happens when those red lines are crossed," Sir John said.

"We're at a very early stage. It's a bit like with nuclear weapons back in the 1950s. We've got the capabilities, but there are no rules lined up as to how they should be used."

PHOTO ID

The Government is trying to clamp down on potential electoral fraud with new trials in which voters have to produce photo ID before casting their ballot.

Labour MPs claim the changes are a deliberate attempt to reduce turnout among their voters, who are thought less likely to have photographic ID.