The Crime and Corruption Commission (CCC) has completed a preliminary investigation which was undertaken to inform its assessment of a complaint relating to the online voting process that sought public feedback on the renaming of Lady Cilento Children’s Hospital.
The CCC has determined not to investigate this matter any further because it is unlikely evidence to substantiate allegations of corrupt conduct or any criminal offence would be obtained.
The CCC assessed whether the Minister for Health, other elected officials, ministerial staff or any public service employee submitted multiple votes with the intent to skew the results of the survey, and if any direction was given to public servants to vote for or against the name change.
To inform its assessment, the CCC issued a notice to discover on the Department of Housing and Public Works to obtain an un-redacted list of computer IP addresses that had voted or accessed the online survey. The CCC further requested the details of the individual owners of the computers related to the IP addresses. The CCC also requested a reconstructed webpage of the voting website to review the instructions provided at the time.
The information obtained indicated that some of the IP addresses provided were servers and some IP addresses were individual computers. A large number of IP addresses were from interstate or overseas. Inquiries with Queensland’s Chief Information Officer established that no government department was linked to the overseas or interstate server providers.
A number of servers were identified as being used by various Queensland government entities including Ministerial Services and Queensland Health (QH). The CCC subsequently requested data from the Department of Premier and Cabinet and Queensland Health to identify IP addresses of Ministerial Services staff and QH staff who accessed the voting website and who voted.
After an analysis of the data, the CCC discovered that on the information it had obtained, distinguishing between an IP address that had simply accessed the voting website and an IP address that had proceeded with a vote was problematic. Every time the voting website refreshed it recorded a ‘hit’ against an IP address but this did not automatically equate to an actual vote.
The CCC therefore focused its inquiries where it could establish the identity of an individual user. Two public servants that had a large amount of hits to the voting website were interviewed by the CCC. Both denied being given a direction to vote in a particular way. One person denied voting at all and the other voted only once. Both indicated they had accessed the website numerous times as part of their roles. This reinforced the problem of distinguishing between ‘hits’ from the voting website recorded against an IP address and actual votes recorded against an IP address.
The CCC considered engaging a specialist to further analyse the data, including analysing individual server logs of IP addresses that accessed the voting website. However, the cost was prohibitive and it was unlikely to result in obtaining evidence that would establish corrupt conduct or criminal conduct. For these reasons, the CCC has referred this matter to the Department of Housing and Public Works for any investigation they deem appropriate. The CCC will not progress with a corruption investigation.
The inability to obtain data that simply records the IP addresses of individual users who actually vote on these matters and the inability to simply link these IP addresses to an individual user in a government entity is of concern to the CCC. The lack of transparency and inability to robustly audit the results of a voting website in the CCC’s view limits the integrity of a process to engage meaningfully with Queenslanders on matters of public interest.
The CCC has written to the Department of Housing and Public Works to recommend that any future voting websites or software used by the State Government to gauge Queensland community support on a topic:
- clearly outlines that only people within the jurisdiction are eligible to vote;
- have technical restrictions to prevent multiple votes from the same IP address;
- have technical restrictions to prevent votes from outside the jurisdiction and
- be capable of being audited to exclude multiple voting by participants to ensure transparency.
These recommendations will strengthen any public voting system and deliver results that can withstand public scrutiny.
The CCC is an independent agency combating major crime and reducing corruption for the benefit of the Queensland community.
NB: This media release was amended at 12.00pm on 7 June 2019 to change the reference to the Department of Public Works and Housing, to the Department of Housing and Public Works.