The former head of MI6 has slapped down Commons Speaker John Bercow’s clamour for electronic voting, warning the system would be at risk of cyber attacks.
Sir John Sawers, who led Britain’s foreign intelligence network between 2009 and 2014, said that voting on a ballot paper with a ‘stubby pencil’ was much more secure.
In a stark warning to supporters of electronic voting, including Speaker Bercow who has set up his own commission on digital democracy, Sir John told the BBC: ‘The more things that go online, the more susceptible you are to cyber attacks.’
Sir John Sawers has said voting on a ballot paper with a ‘stubby pencil’ was much more secure than electronic voting
‘We need to have systems which are robust,’ he told a BBC Radio 4 documentary, The New World.
‘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 also likened the emergence of electronic voting to the early days of nuclear weapons.
Sir John added: ‘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.
‘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.’
His caution comes after the US government accused Russia of interfering with the American presidential elections by hacking into emails of leading Democrats.
The Commons Speaker has set up a special commission on ‘digital democracy’ which champions online voting.
He wants it to be an option for voters by the 2020 general election.
Areeq Chowdhury, chief executive of WebRoots Democracy, which campaigns for electronic voting, said: ‘There is no evidence to show that online voting is more susceptible to fraud than the paper alternative’ (stock photo)
The Electoral Commission has also been looking into electronic voting.
Areeq Chowdhury, chief executive of WebRoots Democracy, which campaigns for electronic voting, said: ‘There is no evidence to show that online voting is more susceptible to fraud than the paper alternative.
‘There have been more instances of fraud across the world with paper votes than electronic ones, and the recent recounts of electronic votes in the US showed no evidence of hacking.’
He added: ‘The Speaker’s Commission was right to recommend the introduction of online voting, as was the House of Commons Political and Constitutional Reform Select Committee.’
Sir John has had his own brush with a lapse in online security.
Shortly before taking up the top MI6 role his wife posted photographs of the spy chief in his Speedos and their children on Facebook.
The information included details about where the family lived and worked.