18 January 2011

Open source governments


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Video: The DoD makes it official: open source IS commercial software.photo © 2010 opensource.com | more info (via: Wylio)

In the course of my work I am here and there asked to advise on open source software (OSS) matters. But for whatever reason, since the beginning of 2011 I had to almost daily read, write or listen to something related to OSS. In the most cases, the OSS in question was somehow connected to a use in the public sector. So, I decided to write a blog article on that.

For the mere sake of clarity and for those readers not familiar with what open source software is – take a look at the definition issued by the Open Source Initiative (OSI).

Most people hardly know it, but open source software is everywhere: it is in computers, smartphones or even refrigerators. The industry discovered it long ago and has successfully deployed it since then. As a consequence of the commercial success, as early as 2001 governments started demonstrating their interest in using OSS. In 2003 the municipality of Munich, being the first worldwide, started the LiMux project that aimed to migrate that city’s 15.000 desktop clients from Windows to Linux. The floodgates opened wide and many others followed the Bavarian approach.

Now, some years after that event, OSS is present on the realms of numerous governments around the world. Not only that, many countries have issued legislation to even foster the spread of OSS. Likewise, the European Commission considers it the digital fuel behind their e-government projects. Very recently, Russia’s Prime Minister Vladimir Putin instructed the federal government agencies to switch to free and open source software by 2015.

An interesting development, is it not?

Besides, the OSS triumph has raised several legal questions. Legal writers have spent tons of both, analog and digital ink to determine whether “government’s acquisition of OSS is subject to public procurement law” or “the installation of OSS within different offices of the same agency constitutes a distribution or a conveyance in the sense of GNU/GPL“. The most of those questions have still not been satisfactorily answered or tested in court.

Either way, I am happy as to governments’ decision to embrace and endorse OSS. Still, there are many steps to take. But in a decade, one might turn around and say “wow, what a giant leap for mankind”.

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29 October 2009

Commission steps up UK legal action over privacy and personal data protection


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The European Commission has moved to the second phase of an infringement proceeding over the UK to provide its citizens with the full protection of EU rules on privacy and personal data protection when using electronic communications. European laws state that EU countries must ensure the confidentiality of people’s electronic communications like email or internet browsing by prohibiting their unlawful interception and surveillance without the user’s consent. As these rules have not been fully put in place in the national law of the UK, the Commission today said that it will send the UK a reasoned opinion.

Specifically, the Commission has identified

Three Gaps In the Existing UK Rules

governing the confidentiality of electronic communications, namely:

No Independent National Authority

to supervise interception of communications, although the establishment of such authority is required under the ePrivacy and Data Protection Directives, in particular to hear complaints regarding interception of communications;

No Need To Grant Explicit Consent

The current UK law the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (RIPA) authorises interception of communications not only where the persons concerned have consented to interception but also when the person intercepting the communications has ‘reasonable grounds for believing’ that consent to do so has been given. These UK law provisions do not comply with EU rules defining consent as freely given specific and informed indication of a person’s wishes;

No Sanctions Against Unlawful Interception

The RIPA provisions prohibiting and providing sanctions in case of unlawful interception are limited to ‘intentional’ interception only, whereas the EU law requires Members States to prohibit and to ensure sanctions against any unlawful interception regardless of whether committed intentionally or not.

The UK has two months to reply to this second stage of the infringement proceeding. If the Commission receives no reply, or if the response presented by the UK is not satisfactory, the Commission may refer the case to the European Court of Justice.

To me, this is a clear signal that data protection and privacy are considered highly valuable achievements that need to be  protected within the European dimension.