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German Federal CIO sides with Open Standards for public sector


Clarification : market-standards are not necessarily proprietary standards

Minister of state Cornelia Rogall-Grothe, IT Commissioner of the German government, said in an interview with the newspaper C't (C't 2010 Heft 15, S. 150-51) that "only by using Open Standards can [the government] obtain independence from software development companies". He also recognised that "maximal interoperability can be reached with open IT-Standards".

For Rogall-Grothe a valid technological standard must first be fully publicized, secondly be unrescritively and consistently used, and thirdly not be subjected to any legal restrictions. "The German government has clearly stated that a technical standard will only be recognised if it can be implemented by all organisations, including Free Software companies and developers", says Matthias Kirschner, German Coordinator at the Free Software Foundation Europe (FSFE).

Rogall-Grothe's statements indicate that his vision of the market is not pervaded by existing proprietary standards that dominate particular sectors. "The notion of market standards is used in the IT-state contract in opposition to the standards that were developed by the government, and not in order to antagonise open standards", states the state secretary. Taken together these comments assure that in future any binding industry standards applied to public sector contracts must be Open. The term "market standard" is commonly used within the industry to distinguish between proprietary and Open Standards. The government of Saxony justified its continued use of proprietary standards in May by arguing that the IT-state contract demanded the continued use of market standards . In April the FSFE criticized this interpretation and requested the German Federal CIO to clarify the legistlation relevant to this issue. Rogall-Grothe's recent statements have shown that particular notions of "market standards" which are used to undermine Open Standards and Free Software have no foundation in Federal perspectives and law.

Karsten Gerloff, President of the Free Software Foundation Europe, welcomed the commissioner's comments: "Open standards in the public sector are key to IT sovereignty and empowered citizenry". "It is critical that we as citizens retain control of the technology that governs us, and open standards are a central element in establishing this control".

The German IT Commissioner's attitude follows a growing trend within the EU, as the European Comission (EC) is increasing its committment to the use Open Standards. Despite occasional setbacks, the Digital Agenda that the EC released in May makes many references and endorsements of the wide scale adoption of Open Standards.

"The next step is for Germany's forward thinking approach to spread to other European Goverments", states Kirschner. Another key document in the field of international computer standards, the European Interoperability Framework (EIF), is soon to be revised, and could have a major impact on public sector usage of standards and technology within the EU. "Other goverments should observe Rogall-Grothe's stance and work to ensure that that the new version of EIF entails a strong definition of Open Standards".

Many organisations follow the "AEIOU" criteria of Open Standards, created by the FSFE to set a clear and meaningful definition of the term. This definition requires formats and protocols to adhere to the following rules: