Non-profit status denied; moving on

Recent news that Yorba was denied non-profit status by the IRS adds weight to the observation that the American government appears to be rethinking it’s position on the role of open source software. When viewed alongside March’s denial of non-profit status to the OpenStack Foundation, the decision looks even more like a deliberate change in direction.

Whilst non-profit status has been bestowed on open source software foundations before now, it seems that due to the prevalence of the open source method and the “software freedom” concept, the IRS has come to regard them as normal and now requires that communities demonstrate even more justification before they can enjoy non-profit status.

At first glance this might seem like grim news for open source foundations, but is it? Perhaps what’s really valuable is not simply having the status of a non-profit, but having the shared rules within an open source community which protect it from troublemakers and which are usually formulated as part of the process of becoming a non-profit.

If the main benefit to non-profit status is actually just as a sign that a community has maturely considered the rules by which it which protects community member rights, creates a permissionless environment and ensures best practice governance, perhaps there are other ways we can achieve the same ends.

For more detail, read Simon’s full InfoWorld article.

Heartbleed and Lessons Learned

HeartbleedWe’ve had some time for the shock of the Heartbleed announcement to sink in and there’s a lot to consider. While the first impressions might be about the serious, exploitable bug and the repercussions of its abuse, the incident casts light on both the value and risks of open source. Continue reading

Steering Where You Look

When I learned to drive, my instructor told me “you steer where you look” — in other words, wherever you focus your attention becomes your destination, so keep your eyes on the road ahead and don’t worry about the stores at the roadside (or even too much about the kerb and the parked vehicles).

The same principle seems applicable in other contexts. We’re moving away from a hierarchical, post-industrial society and evolving into a meshed society of peers, interacting in variable roles on their own terms. That’s challenging established institutions, but sadly they have frequently “steered where they looked” and made the wrong choices. Continue reading

Was OpenSSL’s licensing responsible for the neglect that led to Heartbleed?

Addressing the question of why the OpenSSL project received such low levels of participation pre-Heartbleed, David A. Wheeler, an expert in government use of open source, suggests that it could be down to the choice of license. Within a longer work discussing many of the technical issues involved in addressing Heartbleed, Wheeler wrote:

I suspect that more code review and contributions would occur if OpenSSL used a standard widely used license 

Could it be that potential community members were put off engaging with OpenSSL simply on account of the licensing decision? Continue reading

New OSI Directors

The announcement of the new board at the Open Source Initiative reflects its international and diverse character as well as the introduction of strong community skills. OSI was founded in 1998-9 as a non-profit organisation with the aim of supporting and promoting the open source movement, in part by  maintaining a concrete definition of open source, along with a list of licenses which line up with that definition.

The gradual change to a member selected board is part of a broader restructuring move, also involving the appointment of a general manager and the expansion of community activities (such as fostering of closer ties with the Free Software Foundation). The board is made up of members selected by both individual members and OSI “Affiliate” members, non-profit open source-related organisations which select directors to serve for three year terms.

To find out more about OSI and to hear about some of the individuals now making their mark in the OSI board of directors, read Simon’s full article on ComputerWorldUK.

Data Retention Directive Scrapped

The European Court of Justice (ECJ) decided to scrap the data retention directive on Tuesday, declaring it to be in violation of Europeans rights to a private life and protected personal data. In place since March 2006 the data retention directive required member states to store citizens’ telecommunications data for six months to two years to serve the needs of police and National security agencies.

The ECJ observed that the directive makes possible the discernment of the means, time, place, and frequency of communication between a subscriber or registered user of a site as well as the identity of the person they’re messaging. The ability to collect this information is considered disproportionate to the objectives of the directive and therefore counter to the EU proportionality principle.

The removal of the directive creates it’s own set of issues, questions and grey areas. What will happen to National regulations drafted in accordance with the directive? Can Telecom and Internet Service Providers still store personal data for over six months or is it now to be considered outright illegal? How about ongoing contracts in favour of such data retention? Both governments and the companies involved have got some fast thinking and acting to do. The responses of governments to this move will reveal much about the future of the way European Directives are handled at national scale. Read Simon and Alexandra’s full analysis on ComputerWorldUK.

“… and the filters don’t work/they just make it worse…”

The UK government has pressured ISPs to apply content filters to their customers’ connections, in the name of protecting children from unsuitable content. During 2014, ISPs will be approaching their customers and trying to persuade them to turn on filtering. But this is a mistaken approach arising from magical thinking — “this thing should exist so it must be possible”.

Content filters can’t work, for several reasons. Just a sample: Continue reading