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German Parliament elections: The parties' positions on Free Software

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Today, the Free Software Foundation Europe publishes its Free Software related election questions for this fall's elections to the German parliament, which will take place on September 22. All political parties have responded to the questions, which cover issues like users' control over their electronic devices, the release of publicly funded computer programs as Free Software, and software patents.

From the responses, it's clear that most parties now know more about Free Software than they did in the past. Below is the translation -- done by FSFE's volunteers -- of FSFE's summary and an evaluation of the complete answers. In addition, FSFE encourages Free Software activists to use these questions as an inspiration for their own questions to candidates on federal and local level.

First, something pleasant: SPD, the Greens, the Pirate party, the Linke and the Free Voters want software where development was funded by the public administration to be published under a free licence. The SPD states that "publicly funded software should be available to the general public as far as possible". The Greens demand the publication of such programs as Free Software in their manifesto (see FSFE's overview on the election and party manifestos in Germany (German)). In their reply, they justify this demand with benefits such as "bigger and more sustainable innovation potentials, broadening of competence in handling software, but also security-related advantages". They continually criticise the migration away from Free Software in the Foreign Office. The Pirates and the Left Party both advocate a general publication of all software and content funded by the state. The FDP does not directly address the question, but generally claims to "consider both proprietary and Free software" in public procurement.

The CDU however points out "budget law restrictions" for the publication and advancement of Free Software by the public administration. In their answer, they refer to a paragraph in the Bundeshaushaltsordnung (BHO § 63 para. 2). The federal government however states the following in its accompanying legal document to the migration guidelines (German): This paragraph "does not constitute a limitation for the dissemination of software" (p. 41) and "in the practically most important case, the further development of GPL licenced software, a public authority can share its own development portions to private parties without levy of licence fees" (p. 43). In contrast, these guidelines highlight a problem in the gratis distribution to private parties for development of new software or continuing development of non-copyleft software. It is worth noting that in its past eight years in government, the CDU has not improved the BHO law if they perceive it to be problematic. Furthermore, the CDU/CSU state that in every single case, it should be checked "if obvious modifications of the software would allow it to be used for illegal purposes" and if this was the case, the software should not be published.

The refusal to release a GNU/Linux version of the ElsterFormular tax software (German) meets with a lack of understanding, regret and criticism among the parties. The FDP points to the platform independence of the upcoming version of Elsteronline, which will not need Java to run. Still, they regret that the Elsterformular is not available in a platform independent way. The Free Voters perceive the given platform dependency as incomprehensible in view of system security. The tying to a single operating system development company is unacceptable for the SPD and they want to engage to "make according software available for alternative operating systems as well". The Greens want to advocate the possibility to use the ElsterFormular for users of Free operating systems. The Left Party voices its criticsm: "The provision of the Elster-Formular solely for Microsoft Windows and the refusal to release the GNU-Linux and Mac OS X versions by the Bayerisches Landesamt für Steuern (Bavarian tax administration), which is in charge of the development, is not acceptable." The Pirates demand the publication of the software – even if it was of bad quality – and its documentation under a Free licence to allow others to further develop the software.

All parties agree that public authorities should demand all rights (access to the source code, the right for further developments (also by third parties), the right to distribute the software to others) when contracting out software development. The FDP states: "This creates independence from the producer, strategic reliability and freedom of choice when selecting a service provider." SPD and the Greens mainly justify their demands from an IT security point of view. According to the Linke, the state "should ensure that it has discretion over how the software will be distributed, and use this discretion in the common interest". The CDU attaches "special importance to [...] the possibility of further development of the software from the beginning" in the future. The Pirates and the Greens point to the fact that governmental usage rights are a necessary condition to publish software of the public administration under a Free licence as demanded by the parties. The Free Voters state that they will consider fines for officials and employees who sign contracts without these usage rights.

Asked about the control over mobile devices, the parties mainly focus on aspects of data protection. The SPD sees "challenges especially regarding the right of informational self-determination". The Greens, Linke, Pirates and SPD demand data protection-friendly technology as a basic adjustment ("Data protection by technology"), while CDU/CSU, FDP and the Free voters target a better education of citizens. However, the parties do not answer the question about the rights the users should have on the software on these devices – a question that for example is asked by FSFE's FreeYourAndroid.org campaign.

On the subject "Secure Boot" all parties are in agreement: the White Paper of the federal government contains important demands which they want to support and implement. "With the implementation of Secure Boot the owners of IT devices get limited in the possibility to entirely control contents and applications", writes the Left Party. The FDP wants to "assure that users can make an informed decision about their devices", and the CDU wants to pursue this issue on national and international level. In their detailed answer the Pirates write: "Systems which prevent the user from installing specific software are inacceptable on political and economical grounds. This inevitably leads to promotion of oligopolies or monopolies in the software market. But more important is the socio-political relevance of control over IT systems [....]". The Greens doubt how the federal government will implement the key issue paper "with the extensive ties to Microsoft services" and SPD demands an "initiative on European level [...] to let these targets not only be a political declaration of intention, but to really stick to them."

Except for CDU and Free voters, all parties explicitly support the royalty-free licensing of standards. The Greens point to their demand in the Enquete Kommission "Internet und Digitale Gesellschaft" (EIDG, commission of inquiry in internet and digital society) where they want to place the public administration under an obligation to bring forward interoperability and sustainability of their IT systems "to be independent from interests of individual market participants at the further development of the systems." Criticism of SAGA, the German guideline for IT standards in federal government organisations, comes from the Left Party and Pirates. The Left Party (LINKE) don't see in the specifications without restrictions and licence fees an automatism for increased implementation of Free Software. "On this, active political will and proactive action of federal government is required", so says the LINKE. The Pirates criticise that ODF in SAGA is only a recommended format what results to the fact "that non-free software and closed formats can still be used in administrative practice." For this reason, they consider SAGA to be merely a "paper tiger".

Unfortunately the CDU sees no problem in advertisement on public administration's websites for non-free software as long as such adverts serve usability. The other parties reject this kind of advertisements, and want to prevent them in future. The Greens refer in their answer to their request "Advertisement for proprietary software on websites of federal ministries and public administration" (printed matter 17/8951) in which they picked up on this issue, and to the following discussion of this subject in the IT planning council. The Free Voters offered their help for solutions on municipal level.

FSFE's ongoing work against software patents shows effects: By now all parties on federal level agree that patenting of software should be limited effectively. To this they refer to the inter-fractional request titled "Secure competition and dynamic of innovation in software sector - limit patenting of computer programs effectively".

The CDU/CSU is generally in favour of using "Serious Games", i.e. learning games with the primary goal of imparting knowledge in an entertaining way, in schools and universities and thinks about releasing those games under a Free licence. The FDP wants to get more children into programming and "ensure that newly acquired learning aids can be used platform independently". The Free Voters want to promote Free Software in the municipal sector. The Greens especially demand a consistent procurement practice for software funded by the public sector, continue to criticise regression like for example in the Foreign Office and want to serve as a good example by releasing their own software ("betatext"). The Linke sees Free Software in the context of common property economics and thinks about ways of funding Free Software development, e.g. using parts of the broadcasting fees. The SPD wants to primarily promote Free Software in the administration. In the commission of enquiry on the internet and the digital society (EIDG) the party had demanded that the state should "provide subsidies for usability analysis and the improvement of user friendliness of selected projects".