While some may assert that open source is not applicable in every circumstance, the right to demand access to source code in situations where it is appropriate is important to society as a whole. That’s why it is important to note — and protest — a clause in the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement (TPP), and any other trade agreements carrying the same idea. As the FSF notes, chapter 14 includes a prohibition on governments requiring access to source code as a condition on allowing
the import, distribution, sale or use of such software, or of products containing such software, in its territory.
Just as Volkswagen was able to hide its evasion of emissions regulations behind proprietary code (which the US DMCA and laws like it globally even made it illegal to reverse engineer for scrutiny), so TPP enshrines the ability to hide behind proprietary code and prohibits governments from mandating its disclosure even when that’s in the interests of the citizens they serve. In the future, regulations should increasingly require open source for code critical to regulatory matters; this clause prohibits it. Shutting such an obvious avenue for society’s good seems premature and regressive.
It’s not enough to partially mitigate this ban on open source by allowing secret disclosure to governments. Our perspective is that simply having source made available for viewing by select parties is not sufficient. Source code related to public regulatory matters should be released under an OSI approved license and thus made available to all those who use the software. Doing so allows them to study, improve and share the software as well as to check that their lives are not negatively impacted by its defects. Ideally, all software written using public funds should also be made available as open source.
There’s much else in TPP to be concerned about, as the EFF notes, but this clause is especially regressive and is cause alone to reject the agreement. The clock is ticking — President Obama notified Congress on November 5 that he intends to ratify TPP on behalf of the USA — so the time to protest is now.
[Adapted by OSI as a Board position statement]