Democracy requires Free Software
Throughout history technology has influenced society. Reading, writing, arithmetic, agriculture, printing and radio are all examples of developments that changed the way we interact through trade, art and science. The most important cultural technology of the 21st century is software. The Free Software Foundation Europe (FSFE) is committed to ensuring that people in our society have the right to shape this technology as they see fit.
Today it is impossible to imagine daily life without software. The majority of us can't spend a single day without using it. People use software in the workplace, on laptops, and on mobile phones. Software is also found in less obvious places however: in trains, cars, televisions, washing-machines, fridges, and many other devices. None of these devices could function without software. Without software we couldn't write e-mails, make phone calls, go shopping, or travel as we are accustomed to. Software is our society's central tool.
When others control a tool as important to us as software, they are able to exert great influence over our actions. Whoever controls the search engine that we use determines what we find. He who controls our e-mails has the opportunity to censor us. Simply put, control of a communication service entails the ability to decide who can exchange what with whom. Similarly whoever decides how software operates has great influence over how we live and work.
In modern democracies power is separated. We distribute legislative, executive and judiciary powers between different institutions. Furthermore we distribute responsibilities between several levels of competence, e.g. central government, regional government, and local government. A key function of the freedom of the press is to safeguard against the formation of an informational monopoly, where too much power would be concentrated in too few hands. A key benefit of effective democracy is that you could give any office inside the democratic system to your worst opponent.
It would represent a great danger to democracy if the critical social instrument that software constitutes were controlled by only a small group. Not only does our communication depend on software, but also a big part of society's infrastructure. FSFE wants to voice the interests of computer users, and to hand control of software's future to everybody. Society cannot afford to be dependent on private interests when it comes to a tool as important as software.
Our society must ensure that everybody has the opportunity to shape software for themselves. This requires that we have the freedom to use software for any purpose, to study how it works, to share it with others, and to make improvements.
- Use: The freedom to use the software for any purpose fights discrimination, and ensures equal opportunity for everyone to participate in the society.
- Study: The freedom to study how software functions is central to an understanding of how this critical tool works.
- Share: The freedom to distribute the software ensures that we can assist others by sharing it with them.
- Improve: Lastly, a society must have the freedom to change its tools in order to develop them, and to adapt them to personal needs.
Software that respects these four freedoms is Free Software.
A democratic society needs firm foundations. One of these foundations is Free Software.