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The IT Rights of Digistan

Written By: josh chalifour
Published On: May 28 2008

The Hague Declaration, recently published by The Digital Standards organization, proposes that all governments adhere to free and open standards for IT activities. Something that strikes me about Digistan's declaration is its basis in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and not a technical document. The three things The Hague Declaration calls on all governments to do, are as follows.

  1. Procure only information technology that implements free and open standards;

  2. Deliver e-government services based exclusively on free and open standards;

  3. Use only free and open digital standards in their own activities.


Digistan's approach is sensible because the freedoms made explicit in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights increasingly take place through the Internet and much of their content is conveyed via digital media. When, for example, you consider the right for equal access to public service in one's country, it's reasonable to consider how to enable that equal access.

In case anyone thinks Digistan's call means governments would force software vendors to release products as free and open source software (FOSS), it doesn't (or at least I don't think it implies that). Free and open standards aren't the same as FOSS. Their adoption may promote some common tendencies (interoperability, lack of vendor lock-in, increased potential for innovation, new forms of competition, etc.). I've argued in the past that some software companies try to sound "open" while remaining proprietary by using a verbal bait-and-switch to change conversations from the topic of open source, to that of open standards. They're two very different issues.

I think FOSS helps enable free and open standards because the freedom to study, modify, distribute, etc. is inherent but nothing prevents a proprietary software product from supporting free and open standards--the standards are independent of the software development model. So how can software vendors operate in a way that enables such equal access? Part of Digistan's definition of a free and open standard is
"The standard has been published and the standard specification document is available freely. It must be permissible to all to copy, distribute, and use it freely."

This supports public access to the standard as opposed to allowing it to be locked behind one vendor's proprietary barrier (even if it is a proprietary vendor).

Finally, do take a look at the Digital Standards Organization's Hague Declaration. Aside from its compelling argument, it is a petition. The signatories have the opportunity to write a brief comment, so you can read insights of thousands of people from all over the world.
 
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