Interesting new development in Slovakia: Fight for Open Standards continues on new battleground

Readers, who are following FSFE’s work for longer time must be familiar with our EURA vs. Slovak Tax Authority campaign. Today, it seems, Slovakia still doesn’t care about Open Standards. While other EU Member States are working towards establishing a practice of using Open Standards and encourage usage of Free Software (see latest news about Great Britain or Spain), Slovakia, it seems, is  – still, more than 2 years after the EURA scandal began – struggling with this issue.

Land of the (un)free

The present problem was created by adoption of new legislation, concerning transfer of agricultural land. According to new legal act (see §4(3), only in Slovak), people who own agricultural land and want to sell it must first make an offer on web page of Ministry of Agriculture (with some exceptions, but majority of the owners must follow this procedure). This is where the trouble begins. In order to submit an offer to the Ministry’s web page, you need to use additional software. And, as you could guessed – this software is only available for Windows OS. The problem is even more severe, if we realize, that this is the only way how to submit the offer. There is no paper form to fill, owners of land must do this electronically. This effectively means, that users of other operating systems (like GNU/Linux but also other proprietary OS) cannot comply with their legal obligation. Only way is to get a computer with the single supported OS. Sounds familiar? Yes, this is  EURA situation all over again. This is state supporting technological lock-in for one kind of product again.

And more than that. Ministry’s (but not only, this problem extents throughout the whole government, as you’ll see below) behavior is not only unacceptable, but outright unlawful. Since already 2008, there is a binding regulation, issued by Ministry of Finance. This regulation sets technical standards for government’s information systems. Current version of this regulation states in it’s annex, point 8.11. -

"Neither code nor content of the web page shall presume or request, that user must be using specific operating system, specific browser, active sound output or similar measure [author's translation]"

Website of Ministry clearly doesn’t comply with this provision. Notwithstanding that it is also in contradiction to European Interoperability Framework.

Luckily, thanks to a dedicated work of our former colleague and, at the present time, a Legal Counsel for Slovak non-profit organization European Information Society Institute (EISi) – Martin Husovec – this should be a history soon. EISi’s legal team decided to address this issue and now they are calling upon Ministry to end this practice. Few days ago they sent a letter to Ministry explaining the situation and demanding a remedy. Ministry has now until the end of October – if they won’t comply with the letter and won’t provide an interoperable solution , EISi is not afraid to go to the court. I’m quiet happy to say, that EISi’s effort didn’t go unnoticed – it got attention of media, a coverage in national newspaper and support from public.

But wait! There’s more!

After a bit of research, I found out that the problem might be even more substantial. In December 2013, Slovakia introduced a new form of ID card – so-called “eID card”. This card serves as a standard ID with one new improvement. It contains a chip, thanks to which citizens can communicate electronically with authorities and use other “e-Government” services. All you need is a USB cable and computer. And where’s the catch? Of course, not hard to guess. In order to use your eID card you need to install a client and drivers, which are only available for one platform – Windows OS. This is basically the very same issue as was described in previous paragraphs. Website of Ministry of Agriculture requires using of this software in order to submit an offer for selling land.

This means, that users of other OS like GNU/Linux are not only excluded from possibility to sell agricultural land, but they also cannot use any other services offered by eID card. eID card is useless for this group of users – they cannot use the advantages of e-Government. Frankly, users of Free Software are usually the most technically savvy and that means they are exactly the perfect candidates for being active “testers” of new technology like eID cards.

Slovak authorities are very well aware of this issue. According to Slovak news sources, the eID system was supposed to be interoperable in the first quarter of 2014. Latest explanation was offered by agency NASES, which is responsible for making the whole system interoperable. They say they need more time , because the complexity, safety and non-homogeneous nature of GNU/Linux operating systems requires more testing. This eID card project was launched in December 2013… How much more time do they need? Why do other OS get behind for more than 8 months?

Stay tuned for more! There’s also update scheduled for EURA vs Slovak Tax Authorities campaign status.

More info here (Only in Slovak, sorry, no English sources available):

- Press Release by EISi – EISi žiada Ministerstvo pôdohospodárstva aby prestalo porušovať predpisy o štandardoch (http://eisionline.org/index.php/projekty-m/ochrana-spotrebitela-m/78-podohospodarstvo-standardy)
- National news coverage (paywall) – HNOnline.sk – Jahnátkovi a spol. hrozí žaloba (http://hn.hnonline.sk/ekonomika-a-firmy-117/jahnatkovi-a-spol-hrozi-zaloba-627096)
- DSL.sk – Právnici sa chystajú zažalovať ministerstvo kvôli vyžadovaniu Windows, 13.8.2014 (http://www.dsl.sk/article.php?article=15946)
- DSL.sk -Softvér pre využitie občianskych s čipom na Linuxe a OS X sa opäť posúva, 2.5.2014 (http://www.dsl.sk/article.php?article=15532)