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Julia Reda, MEP: "Proprietary Software threatens Democracy"


Julia Reda ended the QtCon, a conference for the Free Software community, with a closing keynote on, among other things, Free Software in the European Public Sector.

Ms Reda, a member of the EU Parliament for the Pirate Party, explained how proprietary software, software that forbids users from studying and modifying it, has often left regulators in the dark, becoming a liability for and often a threat to the well-being and health of citizens.

An example of this, she said, is the recent Dieselgate scandal, in which auto-mobile manufacturers installed software that cheated instruments that measured fumes in test environments, only to spew illegal amounts of toxic exhaust into the atmosphere the moment they went on the road.

Ms Reda also explained how medical devices running proprietary software posed a health hazard for patients. She gave the example of a woman with a pacemaker who collapsed while climbing some stairs due to a bug in her device. Doctors and technicians had no way of diagnosing and correcting the problem as they did not have access to the code.

Also worrying is the threat software with restrictive licenses pose to democracy itself. The trend of substituting traditional voting ballots with voting machines is especially worrying, because, as these machines are not considered a threat to national security, their software also goes unaudited and is, in fact, unauditable in most cases.

And, although voting machines are built and programmed by private companies, they are commissioned by public entities and paid for with public money, money taken from citizens' taxes. However, there are no universal EU regulations that force companies, or, indeed, public organisations, to make the source code available to the citizens that have paid for it, said Ms Reda.

Furthermore, she noted that, despite the fact Free Software technologies (web servers, CMSs, email servers, and so on) are used extensively throughout the public administration, the public sector assumes very little responsibility in the way of giving back to the community via patches or even bug reports.

Ms Reda said that the solution to this very dismal state of affairs is a multi-pronged one. She commended the Free Software Foundation Europe for its work in advocating for all software commissioned by public entities and paid with public money, be made available under free/libre licenses for everyone. She also noted that to get governments on the side of Free Software it is essential to make them see its merits.

Only like this, she said, would it be possible to make legislators regulate coherently in favour of free/libre technologies.