Celebrate SFD on Saturday 16 September 2017
  • About
  • Software Freedom Matters

Software Freedom Matters

Software Freedom, Underpinning your human rights

In a time when our lives are increasingly dependent on technologies, it is important we take the time to consider the impact of technology on our lives, and the importance of ensuring technology isn't used to limit us, but rather to take us further along a path of opportunity, innovation and freedom for all people.

The United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights [1] is a set of basic human rights that most people would agree would be a bare minimum. Not often are our basic rights thought of in the context of technology, but as more and more our lives are dependent on technology, it is a rapidly growing concern. Technologies that matter to our freedom are used in our voting systems, our leisure, our work, education, art and our communication. What does this mean to you? It means that the basic human freedoms you take for granted are only as free as the technologies you use.

Transparent and sustainable technologies are vital to ensuring we can protect our freedoms. Think about e-Government systems such as electronic voting. When the systems running our voting is proprietary or closed, it means that we can’t be sure what the software actually does, so how can we trust the results? The issues with the Diebold [2] voting systems in the US is testament [3] to the need for transparent systems that are trustworthy. Think about other software you use everyday that is proprietary and apply the fact that you can’t be sure what it is actually doing! Does your email system send copies of your mail to a third party? Is your web browser, logging and automatically sending your browse history to someone? The most interesting case recently was when Sony purposely added spyware [4] to their music CDs that silently and automatically installed itself onto Microsoft Windows systems to search for piracy breaches. This behaviour has spawned a whole new wave of viruses and is a gross breach of privacy.

So what do I mean by transparent? Well some software gives you access to the source code, such as Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) which ensures that you can know (or get checked) what exactly a piece of software will do. It avoids nasty surprises, spyware, result rigging and all kinds of issues that we can’t be absolutely sure to avoid in closed software. Proprietary software keeps the source code locked away from public scrutiny which means that there is no way to know exactly what the software actually does, and no way to trust it to safeguard your human rights. Transparent technologies are about ensuring you can trust the results and operation of your technology.

Sustainable technologies are also important, and the best example of the issue is proprietary data formats. Why should the generations of today not have access to the love letters, essays and poems of their youth? With many applications using proprietary data formats, we can't access the information in other programs or even future versions of the same program. When data is stored in data formats based on open standards [5], there is the ability for people everywhere to easily use and implement the standard and have your data accessible by more applications well into the future. Sustainable technologies are about ensuring access to knowledge forever.

As more and more of the worlds population starts using technology, getting online, and developing the next major life changing event of the future (such as the Internet was for many of us), ensuring open, transparent and sustainable approaches are considered best practice is important. Important to a future where technology empowers everyone equally, where knowledge is forever, and where our basic human freedoms are strengthened by technology, not hampered.

Software Freedom Day is a global celebration and education of why transparent and sustainable technologies are now more important than ever. With over 200 teams in 60 countries participating, it is a fantastic event to get your schools and communities involved in. Go along to your local event or start your own event and meet a wide range of people, all working together to help ensure our freedoms are maintained by the technologies of tomorrow.

[1] - http://www.un.org/Overview/rights.html

[2] - http://safevoting.org/videos/diebold_med.mov

[3] - http://www.bradblog.com/?p=2433

[4] - http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/technology/4400148.stm

[5] - http://www.openstandards.net/viewOSnet3C.jsp?showModuleName=about