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Italy puts Free Software first in public sector

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The Italian government has made Free Software the default choice for public administrations. In a document published last Wednesday, the Italian Digital Agency issued rules saying that all government organisations in the country must consider using Free Software before buying licenses for proprietary programs.

The document, titled "Guidelines on comparative evaluation [of software]", sets out a detailed method which public bodies must follow to decide which software to use. They are required to look for suitable Free Software programs, or choose software developed by the public sector. Only if no suitable programs of these types are available may they consider acquiring non-free software.

"There is no excuse. All public administrations must opt for Free Software or re-use whenever possible", says Carlo Piana, FSFE's General Counsel, who participated in the committee that advised on the guideline. "Now Free Software and re-use are the norm, proprietary software the exception. This is the most advanced affirmative action in Europe so far. I'm so proud that Italy leads the way, for once".

"This is a great example of a simple measure that governments everywhere can take to gain control of their IT infrastructures", says Karsten Gerloff, FSFE's President. "Free Software lets government agencies reclaim their technological sovereignty, and helps them to make it harder for foreign spies to access citizen's data and confidential information. We encourage other countries in Europe and around the world to take a close look and learn from Italy."

The document was authored by the Italian Digital Agency, which for the first time implemented a consulting process involving representatives from the public sector, the Free Software community, and proprietary software makers.

Importantly, the new rules come with a mechanism to ensure they are followed. Both public bodies and the interested public can ask the Italian Digital Agency to check if a given organisation is following the correct procedure. Administrative courts can annul decisions that contradict these rules. In case of negligence, individual public servants may be held personally liable.