Digital Freedom: the legal way done right?

Twitter’s Response to WikiLeaks Subpoena Should Be the Industry Standard

The court order came with a gag order that prevented Twitter from telling anyone, especially the target of the order, about the order’s existence.

To Twitter’s credit, the company didn’t just open up its database, find the information the feds were seeking (such as the IP and e-mail addresses used by the targets) and quietly continue on with building new features. Instead the company successfully challenged the gag order in court, and then told the targets that their data was being requested, giving them time to try and quash the order themselves.

Twitter and other companies, notably Google, have a policy of notifying a user before responding to a subpoena, or a similar request for records. That gives the user a fair chance to go to court and try and quash the subpoena. That’s a great policy. But it has one fatal flaw. If the records request comes with a gag order, the company can’t notify anyone. And it’s quite routine for law enforcement to staple a gag order to a records request.

That’s what makes Twitter’s move so important. It briefly carried the torch for its users during that crucial period when, because of the gag order, its users couldn’t carry it themselves. The company’s action in asking for the gag order to be overturned sets a new precedent that we can only hope that other companies begin to follow.

On the Internet, when the software we use (even Free Software like identi.ca), we rely on multiple services providers. Free Software and Open Standards can help shaping a digital space in which centralization is the exception. Our current DNS-system for instance, is a centralized design right now (even though it’s intelligent design technically to prevent bad things from happening without others noticing).

However, Free Software isn’t the only parameter we have to take into account to preserve our freedoms. I think that in cyberspace, the legal way done right looks like what Free Software and open standards achieve: less centralization or power on the intermediary or the provider, more on the end user. Fortunately, this leads to more freedom for the netizens, but also to more responsibility.

If Twitter fails on this part, fortunately, it hasn’t on the legal side. (Contrary to Paypal, Amazon, etc.)

But is it enough? What do you think?

Why Free Software matters for Society (draft)

Please give me your feedback on this draft article ;) It is intended for publication on FSFE.org so for now it is All Rights reserved.


Free Software is defined by four freedoms, and intends to create ethical relationships in the digital age of society, based on trust, responsibility and freedom.

In a world where we rely increasingly upon Information Technologies such as software and networks, it is important to realize software is more than code. The effects of programs go beyond the limited scope of developers, and contribute to shape our future.

The Free Software movement aims at making this future possible for everyone by ensuring fundamental principles of freedom for all, equally.

In order to achieve this goal, Richard M. Stallman defined four freedoms. At first sight however, these criteria are only valuable to hackers and developers. It is true that for most users access to source code does not seem important, neither do the rights to modify and publish improvements. The utility of software freedom is not obvious for all because only few have the capacity to enjoy hacking.

Free Software is valuable to society since it enables the emergence of a system, in the same perspective as Democracy. Democracy leads to the transformation of political systems, especially towards more freedom for all. However, in order to achieve this the political system goes through several steps before everyone value political rights. The fact that someone cannot enjoy the freedom given by the system does not mean he cannot enjoy its effects. To illustrate this, think of the process of an election.

The Constitution gives to every citizen over a certain age the right to be candidate in a political election. But it does not mean that everyone will, because only some citizens have the capacity and want to become politicians. Would you say that Democracy does not matter because you do not want to be in politics? No, the scope of Democracy is larger than just the election system. Whether you participate directly or not, you as a citizen enjoy the effects of freedom in your political system.

Quite the same distinction occurs in Free Software. Its licences grant rights to use, share, study and improve the program. But it does not mean that everyone will. These rights are fundamental for the software system because nothing stops you if you want to learn how software works or how to read source code. It depends on your own choice.

Thus, Free Software concurs to a system in which developers and users are equal and potential hackers. It results in a system in which freedom and equality are at core. That is also why Free Software is good for business and for education. Because if your creation is better than the competition, you are allowed to start yourself.

It is also important for education because Free Software gives everyone the right to read and understand source code. And this is a very important step toward a free society in the digital age, when technology will be even more invasive. It is important that more people are able to read and modify source code, so that it is not an extreme minority of people who shape the system for us.

This is a question of social control. What freedom will we have in a society of digital illiterates? Free Software enables people to be in control in digital society and gives the possibility to learn, to read and to write.

“Free Software, Free Society”

Is Free Software more securing?

While Microsoft is going to launch in a flood of propaganda advertisement its new operating system – Windows 7, an important security hole seems to have been quietly ignored. Microsoft has to make itself a better image towards users, after the more than mixed success of Windows Vista, which still has difficulty to replace the old Windows XP. So it’s not difficult to understand that the monopolist takes more care of packaging than it takes care of security.

Free as in Freedom operating systems are not perfect, however I think we have the right to say Free Software is more securing. Here’s why. First, the source code is open, which allows any pertinent entity (be it a developer, an IT security agency, or a competing company…) to identify holes – and to fix them. Second, Free Software does not create monopolies, it participates on the contrary to a better repartition of tasks. i.e., there are several versions of Linux, several operating systems based on GNU and Linux, several vendors or communities and several shippers. And this collaborative development needs transparency. All these different actors ensure that every single level of development of the system is under control.

This is a major difference with development model typical for proprietary systems where the repartition of tasks is possible, but where there is no diffusion of responsibility or power. Every actor keeps the exclusive control over its software and thus over probable security holes. This results in really important issues, especially when one company holds a monopoly and abuses its position over such an important market as desktop software. Every single user of Microsoft products are strongly dependents on it. Resolving problems can only be done if Microsoft wants to. Unhappily, in such an overwhelming structure as Microsoft, if marketing is considered more important than security, it is the user who will pay.

So here are some incidents due to security issues with Microsoft softwares, that were mentioned since October 1.

It does not only concern operating systems and big infrastructure, but also basic software as web browser, which are used everyday by billions of people. Here again, Microsoft takes its time.

About the subject

I am not the first one to talk about this issue of course. If one wants deeper explanations, he should find details in this article: Why Free Software? Look at the numbers! or also, Computer viruses are caused by Proprietary Software.

Anyway, what’s important before security or technical issue, is trust and control.

It’s our duty to take care of our own security

Finally, I’ll say that Free Software is not more secured itself. But by giving the freedom to study the source code, to improve and to share modifications, Free Software gives its users the power to take care of their own security instead of giving it up to someone else.

It’s not a coincidence if Free operating systems have excellent tools to grant users privacy and intimacy, like GnuPG or OpenSSH.