Your freedom – a dream within an emailJuly 31, 2006
Below is something I’ve written up for one of the local universities to publish in their paper about Software Freedom Day. Feel free to copy and send to more people or organisations to try and get the point across. I’ve left the links there plain for easy copy and paste to an email 🙂
The United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights  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 with 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 technology they are based on.
Transparent and accountable 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  voting systems in the US is testament  to the need for transparent systems that are trustworthy. Think about other software you use everyday that is proprietary software 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  to theirmusic CDs that silently and automatically installed itself onto MicrosoftWindows systems to search for piracy breaches. Their greed 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) without any question 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 sure to avoid in proprietary 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.
Software Freedom Day is a global initiative with over 150 countries participating on Saturday September 16th. Our event will be right here at UNSW and we will be having a full day of talks about this topic from political, media, arts and of course technology viewpoints. The day is completely free and there will be giveaways, prizes and further information about how you can do your bit to help ensure technology doesn’t act to lock down our human rights. Come along and meet a wide range of people, all working together to help ensure our freedoms are maintained by the technologies of tomorrow. The event information is up at http://softwarefreedomday.org/teams/oceania/au/sydney