[Fsf-friends] FSMK- newsletter3 -editorial.

naveen mudunuru naveenmudunuru at gmail.com
Fri Aug 21 08:05:12 IST 2009

In this edition we choose to write about an important topic concerning each
citizen of India. Let us start this with a simple question. Why do we
endorse free software? Free software is 'freedom' software. The user has the
full freedom to understand the software (by analyzing the source code), has
complete freedom to upgrade or customize according to his need, and can also
fix the bugs without any dependency. So freedom to understand a piece of
source code is very crucial as far as an individual is concerned.

 *We know this, then why are we reiterating this basic question?*

 The union budget '09 proposed to provide a Unique Identifier (UID) number
to each citizen in this country. It is argued that this UID number would
help the Government in identifying targeted beneficiaries for various
welfare schemes. Various departments based on their needs, would be using
this number. Going forward, this UID number would avert the need for
multiple proof of identity for citizens like, ration card, electoral card,
pan card, etc.(Apart from availing Government services, it would be used for
private needs also, such as opening bank accounts or seeking telephone
connections). Hence no doubt, the role of this number is very crucial.
Taking all these arguments into consideration, the implementation of this
project has to take place with utmost care as it carries a very important
projected role as far as society's progress, justice and welfare is
concerned. Another important aspect is security. The UID database hold very
crucial information and is very much important as far as National Security
is concerned. Virtually this UID Database holds the key for all kinds
ofinformation. Considering the global and national scenarios, this project
is of prime importance. The project is very huge. Initial budget estimation
is of Rs 120 crores. And for sure it would be revised multiple times before
implementation (and can end up 3 to 5 times above budget estimation
considering our practical experiences from the industry.) Any one can
oversee the complexity of the work which includes construction of a new
online database with identity and biometric details of each citizen of
India. We feel this includes development of sophisticated applications which
may include many tiers, huge databases, different types of reports, packages
etc. It may also include interaction with different existing systems, and
migration of data from those system.

 *So, what has happened? *

 Well, some disturbing news is heard.

 “*Microsoft is keen to partner in this project.” *We have serious
reservations on the involvement of Microsoft in this crucial project.
Freedom is each individual's fundamental right. He cannot allow infiltration
to his privacy or dictating terms to him. What about a society? A society
can be termed as progressive only when each individual's right and freedom
is protected. This is exactly the State's role. It should ensure the freedom
and well being of each of its citizens. Microsoft is notorious on denial of
the freedom (in digital world). Restricting access to source code and not
allowing modifications from users is denial of his fundamental right -
freedom to know – which is the corner stone of any society's progress.
Denial of freedom to know (for a user and in this context the user is Indian
government) gives freedom for Proprietary Software companies to infiltrate
his(user's) privacy. The sheer number of anti- rust suits against Microsoft
and other Proprietary Software makers is a testimony to the monopolistic
tendencies of corporates and their utter disregard to the laws of the land,
in pursuit of making money by hook or crook. In one of those cases,
Microsoft argued that it cannot continue revealing further information to
the judge, as the information is closely related to US national security. In
short Microsoft is bound by the US Laws and is having strong strategic
alliance with US Government, obviously this is in conflict with our national
interest as USA can use this alliance for achieving any objectives they
wanted (they have also announced Cyber warfare NSPD 16 for crippling any
networks across the world, which makes the whole scenario more complicated).
All these facts suggests an impending danger is looming on the sovereignty
of India if we allow Microsoft in implementing this project. Just imagine
how terrible it will be if the presence of malicious code or bugs in
Microsoft's proprietary closed source crashes or corrupts the database,
where future ofmillions depends. The source code of a project which is
having tremendous importance to India, should be owned solely by the Govt.
of India and not by Microsoft or any other corporates. A software can be
termed as secure only if the freedom to examine or modify the code lies with
its user, in this case Govt. of India. As per IT Act 2000, public systems
cannot have malicious code inside. IT Act further says, public systems
should not cause leakage of sensitive information relating to "privileges of
parliament, trade, or other sensitive information". This can only be ensured
if public systems are only on Free Software. Besides this, what if Microsoft
resorts to steal the most vital and crucial information (as Satyam computers
did to World-bank) and thereby destabilizing the country as part of USA's
global imperial agenda? It is unimaginable. Another classic example is the
case of Venezuela’s state-owned oil company PDVSA, which demonstrated how
Proprietary Software is a threat to the sovereignty of a country. (
idea-and-the-duty-of-governmentssays- stallman/). Apart from the security
concerns shared above, we identify Microsoft's attempt as a crooked one!
Microsoft sees the huge benefits it could accomplish by involving in this
project. Huge budget involvement, support work (in software industry,
majority of revenue is churned from the support work, and one can not deny
the possibility of introducing bugs in the software for getting the support
work!), upgradation work, backward entry to National E-commerce project
implementations, increased market penetration and forcing of the
implementation of IPR and copy right laws by close association with the
policy makers etc are few of the advantages they could easily get! Adding to
above, storage, distribution and display formats of this crucial data is
very important. Openness andInteroperability are two vital and basic
requirements for any standard. It is often correctly noted that the closed
standards would drive one in to the folds of proprietaryrealm and thereby
much serious patent complications. We must ensure that vital data of this
stature is stored in formats that are open and free of all constraints like
royalties, patent claims etc and there by should not allow to be controlled
by anyone. Incidentally,this is also time where India's Draft Policy on Open
Standards close to finalization, and in a surprise move, Nasscom – a
representing body of the industry and MAIT recommended inclusion of
standards under RAND terms and the usage of multiple standards in the same
domain. Both of these recommendations have serious implications as far as
India's interest is concerned. Issues of interoperability (between different
standards), complications (on adhering to multiple standards) and high cost
(of proprietary standards and bringing one in to the fold of patent issues)
are few of the major issues. We suspect Microsoft's role and motivation on
Nasscom and MAIT's recommendation. Another disturbing fact is Nandan
Nilakeni whom our union ministry entrusted to implement this crucial
project. This project can be handled easily by any senior administrative
officer who is having prior experience of implementing complexecommerce
applications. He could be biased as his previous company shares, business
interest with Microsoft and also they voted for OOXML, much against national
interest. Considering his links and role he played in Infosys, the
possibility of Infosys being promoted cannot be overruled (and obviously
going with the proprietary realm). All indications are that Microsoft is
directing heavy lobbying in India for accomplishing its vested interests.
Different studies have shown the superiority of Free Software when compared
with Proprietary Software. Robert Francis Group (IBM-sponsored research)
found securitylevels in GNU/Linux generally exceeded those in Windows,
providing a more secure and manageable environment out of the box with
significantly more functionality in terms of security integration and
management. The Linux kernel programming code is better and more secure than
the programming code of most Proprietary Software - based on a four-year
analysis of the 5.7 million lines of Linux kernal source code conducted by
five Stanford University researchers. So we should use only Free Software
for the implementation of this crucial project. It is the only way for
developing a superior implementation, in a very economical way which is
important for a country like India where majority of population is in
poverty and destitution. We are afraid that this project may lead to giving
pathway for the Proprietary Software companies and their products to the
ecommerce projects, which is against National interest in different ways –
Huge economic loss for the national exchequer, inferior quality products,
with future liabilities and the most important one - invoking gross
vulnerability to National Security and stability. This needed to be
countered at any cost. State should have control on the software products it
purchases or develops. We cannot allow these proprietary s/w companies to
loot public money for inferior quality products and allowing them to
infiltrate in to the freedom of our fellow citizens. We appeal our readers
to raise your voice against the infiltration attempts of Microsoft(and other
companies who endorse proprietary realm in software industry) and to endorse
Free Software for keeping nation's interest forefront.

 “*The most unfortunate thing is that India still*

*seems to believe in proprietary solutions”*

Dr.A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, Former President of

India, May 28, 2003

 For Other Articles in the new letter. Click on the link

Be Free, Speak Free, Work Free.
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