Open source: Defending freedoms in the digital future

20 Dec 2017 11:45h - 13:15h

Event report

[Read more session reports and live updates from the 12th Internet Governance Forum]

Mr Satish Babu, Founder, Chairman, Internet Society Trivandrum, opened the session adding that the session is organised in the context of defending the digital freedoms of the future. He presented the session format and posed questions for the group to discuss and find answers for.

Ms Mishi Choudry, Legal Director, Software Freedom Law Center, stressed the importance of open source software and pointed out that there is a greater need to have control over the devices that people use to ensure digital freedom in the 21st century. She further added that private property and the free market are not the only ways to organise society efficiently and the commons provides an alternative to the established norm.

Choudry observed that power with respect to software is centralised and concentrated in the hands of very few players. The job of the free and open source software community is to empower citizens to run their own services and prevent the concentration of power. She highlighted that the open source community can help identify and remove bias in the algorithms by reviewing, auditing and modifying the code and data.

Mr Panayotis Antoniadis, Co-founder, Nethood, presented a case from Belarus where non-profit organisations reached out to communities and helped the communities learn and use open source software instead of carrying out radical campaigns. He also stressed the need to have strong organic, grassroots level movements to build and support open source communities.

Mr Glenn McKnight, Board of Trustees, Internet Society, added that the group focussed on the purpose of open source software and added that open source software’s support to community building and capacity building, saves costs and has huge benefits to the country since the data is not shared with a country from a different country. He also added that decision-makers need to be given the tools essential to making the right decisions.

Satish pointed out the difference that exists between governments. While there are governments that openly support open source, there are also governments that do not have a friendly view of open source. He added that lobbying from larger corporations plays a huge role in the governments’ adoption of software. Governments tend to see a potential for control in commercial software which they do not see in an open source. A member of the Copyfighters team raised the issue of recent changes in the European Union that would lead to pre-screening and filtering of content and code on GitHub. The panel acknowledged that it is a worrying development and efforts are being made to get the policymakers to understand the implications of their actions. Wrapping up the session, it was noted that open source software needs to be supported with more conversations and ideas on ensuring its adoption and use.

By Krishna Kumar Rajamannar