Dutch government publishes large project as Free Software

The Dutch Ministry of the Interior and Kingdom Relations released the source code and documentation of Basisregistratie Personen (BRP), a 100M€ IT system that registers information about inhabitants within the Netherlands. This comes as a great success for Public Code, and the FSFE applauds the Dutch government's shift to Free Software.

Operation BRP is an IT project by the Dutch government that has been in the works since 2004. It has cost Dutch taxpayers upwards of 100 million Euros and has endured three failed attempts at revival, without anything to show for it. From the outside, it was unclear what exactly was costing taxpayers so much money with very little information to go on. After the plug had been pulled from the project earlier this year in July, the former interior minister agreed to publish the source code under pressure of Parliament, to offer transparency about the failed project. Secretary of state Knops has now gone beyond that promise and released the source code as Free Software (a.k.a. Open Source Software) to the public.

In 2013, when the first smoke signals showed, the former interior minister initially wanted to address concerns about the project by providing limited parts of the source code to a limited amount of people under certain restrictive conditions. The ministry has since made a complete about-face, releasing a snapshot of the (allegedly) full source code and documentation under the terms of the GNU Affero General Public License, with the development history soon to follow.

In a letter to Dutch municipalities earlier in November, secretary of state Knops said that he is convinced of the need of an even playing field for all parties, and that he intends to "let the publication happen under open source terms". He went on to say: "What has been realised in operation BRP has namely been financed with public funds. Software that is built on top of this source code should in turn be available to the public again."

These statements are an echo of the Free Software Foundation Europe's Public Money, Public Code campaign, in which we implore public administrations to release software funded by the public as Free Software available to the citizenry that paid for it.

The echoes of 'Public Money, Public Code' do not stop there. In a letter to the Dutch parliament Wednesday 29 November, the secretary of state writes about the AGPL: "The license terms assure that changes to the source code are also made publicly available. In this way, reuse is further supported. The AGPL offers the best guarantee for this, and besides the GPL (General Public License), sees a lot of use and support in the open source community.

"Publication will happen free of charge so that, in the public interest, an even playing field is created for everyone who wants to reuse this code."

This is big news from the Netherlands and an unprecedented move of transparency by the Dutch government. Following a report to the Ministry of the Interior about publishing government software as Free Software (Open Source Software), it seems that this will happen more often. In it, Free Software is described as making the government more transparent, lowering costs, increasing innovation, forming the foundation for a digital participation society, and increasing the quality of code.

"We applaud the Dutch government for releasing the source code for BRP. We have been asking for this method of working since 2001, and it is good to see that the government is finally taking steps towards Free Software. In the future, we hope that the source code will be released during an earlier stage of development, which we believe in this case would have brought issues to light sooner", says Maurice Verheesen, coordinator FSFE Netherlands.

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