When governments mandate proprietary software

Software is increasingly essential to communicate with our governments, and the choice of that software is a very sensitive issue in a democracy. There is always a danger of undermining the right of the citizens to freely communicate with the government — and that right is obliterated when governments mandate the use of specific proprietary products for that communication.

Not only does this turn governments into agents of monopolisation, it also creates a de-facto two-class society between those that have access to the proprietary solution, and those that do not.

FSFLA, FSFE‘s sister organisation in Latin America, has spoken up against such “imposed software” in Brazil, where the tax declaration has to be made electronically with a proprietary program. From FSFLA’s newsletter:

How would you react to headlines such as “Government agency pushes red meat down vegetarian’s throats!” during a (hypothetical?) law-mandated f[e]ast? [...] This wouldn’t amount to mere disrespect for legitimate and thoughtful choices (even if you don’t agree with them). It’s government agencies breaking the law so as to force citizens to break the law, against citizens’ own personal legal choices, and in detriment of the citizens themselves. Fewer people feel that strongly about rejecting non-Free Software than about the issues above. But should our thoughtful and legitimate choices be disrespected just because we aren’t that many?

It seems that the continued work has now shown some effect: One of Brazil’s major newspapers has now published an article about the issue in which governmental officials were forced to comment on the situation.

Well done, FSFLA!

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About Georg Greve

Georg Greve is CEO and President of the Board at Kolab Systems AG, a Swiss Open Source ISV for collaboration and communication, also available as Swiss hosted service Kolab Now. During his 20+ year career in Free and Open Source Software he has been author of the Brave GNU World, one of the most widely spread columns on the subject, founding president of the Free Software Foundation Europe (FSFE) and provided input to various governmental and inter-governmental organisations. In 2009 Georg was awarded the Federal Cross of Merit on Ribbon by the Federal Republic of Germany for his contributions to Open Source and Open Standards.
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