Josh Chalifour comments on Digistan: The IT Rights of Digistan
I've argued in the past that some software companies try to sound "open" while remaining proprietary by using a verbal bait-and-switch to change conversations from the topic of open source, to that of open standards. They're two very different issues.
His slight objections against the Digistan project is that open standards would be a compromise for non-adoption of free and open source software. The Hague declaration does indeed not call on Governments to adopt Free and open source software. Currently no pressure group calls aggressively for an exclusive free and open source software policy for the government. Ironically those governments which apply open source policies get active in open standards as well.
Digital open standards allow software providers to compete regardless of their business model. It is an inclusive concept aimed to move towards perfect competition and overcome the so-called lock-in effects.
Opposition against the concept of open standards follows basically three lines
- vendors want to keep control over their interfaces and restrict competition
- patent owners want to license interfaces and collect royalties
- official standard organisations fear the loss of their semi-official status. Who calls for "openness" speaks about a performance based criteria that can or cannot be fulfilled by what these organisations provide.
These days the trunk in the room is of course patent licensing conditions: RAND, FRAND, RF. Standard organizations often keep an agnostic view and require only the bare minimum, i.e. "reasonable and non-discriminatory" (uniform fee) conditions. Under the existing software patent regimes it is a tricky legal challenge to indemnify standards from patent infringement or enforce interoperable RAND licensing conditions. Neither RAND nor RF licensing is sufficiently standardized, a problem of legal interoperability. Some widespread open source licenses are incompatible with RAND conditions and many (F)RAND licences are deliberately written to lock out open source competitors.
From the rationale of a market system and the public service objectives of a government it is obvious that a more competitive environment won't do any harm to the economy. On the contrary markets benefit. It is only necessary to overcome organisational egoisms. Governments are perfectly capable to make use of their procurement power to promote more openness.
Something that strikes me about Digistan’s declaration is its basis in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and not a technical document.
Chalifour points that rightfully out. The belief of the Digistan founders is that electronic access to public services needs to be non-discriminatory. It is our right as citizens that governments do not prejudice our technological choices. eGovernment is not just another channel but is an essential public service for administration, businesses and citizens. Governments have a public mission.