The west is in a state of crisis due to the capture of the mechanisms of democracy by special interests. It’s time for change, and that change may well involve a shift from consultative or representative democracy to participatory democracy of some form. To support participatory democracy it’s essential to have enabling software that’s accessible to all citizens and transparent in its operation. I find it hard to imagine achieving that without open source.
Fortunately there is an excellent open source, free software project to support participatory democracy – the Consul Project. It provides tools for every function that a local participatory democracy initiative might need, including collaboratively devising legislation. The project is widely used around the world and is currently hosted by Madrid City Council.
Last week in Amsterdam, a broad range of democracy and rights organisations from around the world formed the Consul Democracy Foundation to act as the new home for the Consul Project. I was honoured to participate in founding the organisation as a representative of OSI. Consul is “the most complete citizen participation tool for an open, transparent and democratic government” and is open source, free software under the AGPL.
Simon visited the studio this week to co-host FLOSS Weekly 523 which interviewed the developers behind the new FluidKeys project that simplifies team key sharing so secrets can be passed encrypted and e-mails can be easily managed. It uses OpenPGP so potentially enhances any OpenPGP tool. It was open core when we started the show but by the end they were convinced it should actually all be open source under AGPL!
Last October Simon spoke at DINACon in Bern, Switzerland. His keynote speech is now available.
Of late there have been a number of interventions sponsored by the world’s largest and most profitable tech patent holders to muddy the waters about open source and FRAND licensing of patents in standards by arguing contentious minutiae like the intent of the authors of the BSD license. This is happening because of the clash of industries I wrote about in 2016, with companies fundamentally based on extracting patent royalties unable to imagine any other way of doing business so mistaking the issue of FRAND as being about license compliance rather than as it being an obstacle to the very purpose of open source in commercial software — collaboration with others.
I found an amazing number of experienced and expert colleagues across industries failing to grasp this fundamental, so I’ve written a paper 🗎 about it. Published today by Open Forum Europe, it explains why compliance legalities are the wrong lens for studying the issue and introduces terms for exploring why representatives from different industry background fail to understand each other despite apparently using the same terminology (spoiler: they mean different things by the same words).
Many thanks to the colleagues who have made valuable suggestions that have improved the clarity of the document, and to the various patrons who have contributed to covering my time. Get in touch if you’d like me to come to your event or company and talk about these things.
You may recall I attended a meeting in Paris last November where we worked on a statement about the cultural value of software. I am delighted to say it has now published both a call for action by UNESCO and a report explaining in more depth.
This is the first work of public policy of which I’m aware that explicitly recognises “that the source code of software used for the implementation of laws and regulations defines the experience of the law by citizens.” That important statement forms the anchor for much change in global legislation relating to digital rights, and as a UNESCO Call it will be considered by each and every future UNESCO policy and consequently by national policy of UNESCO members. Notably, it calls on all to “enable effective independent auditing of software source code used to make decisions that may affect fundamental rights of human beings and where possible ensure it is made available under an open source license.”
Software embodies the procedures by which the citizen engages with the state, through which the citizen and the market interact and in which citizens engage each other and enjoy cultural and leisure pursuits. Our ability to see society in action and guarantee the democracy that sustains it is increasingly dependent on our ability to review the software by which it is enabled at every level. When we have no right of review – let alone a right to directly participate in maintaining the software – we have lack the most import of the checks and balances of a 21st century democracy.
The Paris Call identifies software as a primary cultural artefact, requiring public access, demanding preservation and deserving cultivation. It sets a benchmark for the treatment of software as modern treasure. Now its the turn of the framers of wider policy to take that into account.
This week on FLOSS Weekly Simon co-hosted a fascinating conversation with NextCloud’s founder Frank Karlitschek.
Simon seemed to enjoy discovering that the era in which he started his career (the 80s) still has resonances today. In an experience he describes as “akin to finding a live trilobite on a fossil beach”, FLOSS Weekly 510 discovered that the MUMPS database GT.M is still alive, is now open source under the AGPL, is called YottaDB and is going strong. GT.M was (and is) the original NoSQL database, powering healthcare long before anyone thought to call it NoSQL.
YottaDB demonstrates one of the great strengths of open source, public escrow. While the copyright holders of GT.M have no interest in a public project, releasing it under an OSI-approved open source license has liberated the code and allowed K.S. Bhaskar to start a new kind of company to make it globally available.