Group: Free Software in Government
Let's work together to get governments to adopt free software. Here are some ways you can contribute to this wiki page and group:
- If you come across any stories or examples in which a government is adopting, debating, or even just discussing free software, please add whatever information and URLs that you can to this page.
- Share with us any appeal letters or text you have written to your government or representatives.
- Share links and info about any other mailing lists or groups involved in promoting free software in government.
However, if you are aware of any good opportunities for getting free software adopted by a particular government and you are looking for immediate or urgent help and support, then we urge you to do more than simply update this page. Hopefully the work of this group can produce some mailing lists and/or contact lists that you will be able to reach out to when looking for support and help from fellow free software activists. But, in the very least, please email the FSF at firstname.lastname@example.org.
French gendarmeri and French National Assembly
The French gendarmerie (a military branch of the national police), and the French National Assembly, have switched to Gnu+Linux.
- French police deal blow to Microsoft AFP, January 30th, 2008.
- Colophon for GOV.UK at launch October 2012.
- A law has been sanctioned requiring that the state give priority to Free Software. The same law requires that information be exchanged in open formats. It is called Ley de Software Libre y Formatos Abiertos (PDF in Spanish))
Example letters of appeal
This text uses Massachusetts as an example but could be adapted to appeal to other governments and agencies.
Governments in Massachusetts are increasingly dependent on software to operate. Citizens access important services via the Internet, and critical public documents are now digitally archived. Buying new software isn't like buying new desks and chairs for the office anymore. The makers of software now exert substantial control over how government operates.
Most software currently used by Massachusetts governments is like a black box. It's proprietary, which means that the government and its citizens are not allowed to look inside the box to see how it works. Proprietary software also comes with a set of restrictions that prevent the software from being modified or copied without explicit permission.
We place the fate of our democracy in the hands of a few private entities when we accept these restrictions on the technology we depend on for everything from social services to voting information. Government needs to serve the public interest, and so has an obligation to remain independent of such control.
Government choice of software dictates the software citizens are able to use to access information and services. If the government chooses a proprietary program---for example, to build its web sites---this often means that citizens will have to install another compatible proprietary program on their own computers in order to take advantage of the resource. In this way, the government locks its citizens into a relationship with a particular company and takes away their freedom to choose something different.
Fortunately, there is a solution. Massachusetts governments should begin switching to free "as in freedom" software. Free software is software that permits users to run, copy, distribute, study, change, and improve the software for any purpose. Because the source code for free software is publicly available, it is sometimes also called "open source". Being able to look inside the box is only one of several important aspects, though, so it is more accurate to use the term "free software".
There are thousands of free software programs already available. Free operating systems like GNU/Linux are fully capable of replacing the proprietary alternatives made by Microsoft and Apple. Many people are already using free software applications like Mozilla Firefox and OpenOffice.org. Governments could accelerate this trend with their support and encouragement.
Respecting freedom is reason enough to switch to free software, but there are practical benefits as well. For example, free software is generally more secure than proprietary software. The government can test and inspect the software directly, and benefit from the fact that people all around the world---because the source code is available--are inspecting the very same software for problems. When problems are discovered, they can be fixed much more quickly because the fixes don't have to wait on a single vendor.
Instead of handing the technological machinery of our democracy to small groups of individuals or businesses and locking our citizens into dependent relationships with these groups, governments should be using and supporting software that is publicly available and freely licensed. It's the only way to preserve the independence of Massachusetts governments from private interests, and the only way to respect the freedom of Massachusetts citizens.
Deval Patrick said of Massachusetts in his inaugural address, "American ideals were first spoken here, first dreamed about here. Our constitution is the oldest, and one of the most explicit about individual freedoms." If it is to continue as a lead advocate for individual freedoms, Massachusetts must recognize the negative impacts of its current software policies.
For more information about free software, please visit:
(First begun by Christian Fernandez, Chris Parker, and John Sullivan.)
Subpages of this group
(Note that this page does not automatically update; if you add another subpage, you need to edit and save this page for your new page to appear in the below list.)
- Obama and free software by James Love
- NEH grants ask for free software (unfortunately they call it open source)
- A petition for the U.S. government to premote the use of Free/Libre Open Source Software in schools.
- GitHub and Government - Make government better, together.
This page was a featured resource in December 2012.