Lobbying for Free Software

I am not aware of any Linux Users Group (LUG) being active in informing it’s members of how the policies of the various political parties compare with regard to free software and the other issues that are of interest to most members. I believe that this is a grave mistake.

Shortly before an election there are many social groups that send lists of questions to all the parties. They ask about the policies the parties have in regard to the issues that they care about, and helpfully mention the number of members that will receive the response. This of course doesn’t mean that every member of the group in question will cast their vote in the same way, merely that they will take note of the answers.

The committee members of the parties in question will then decide how to answer the questions and whether policy should be tweaked to allow answers that the lobby groups will like. So this process not only helps members of a group make informed voting decisions related to issues that they care about, but it also helps political parties choose policies that are least offensive to the group in question.

Here is a draft of a list of questions that I think should be asked of all political parties on behalf of Linux users:

  1. It is important for all citizens to access all government data without being forced to buy new software or hardware, open standards allow everyone to access the data with free software. Do you support the use of open standards for data on government web sites and other forms of electronic communication between government agencies and citizens?
  2. For long term archival of records it is important that file formats remain readable. The only effective way of doing this is to use open file formats that are implemented in free software. Do you support mandating that all data submitted to government agencies (by citizens or corporations) be in open file formats wherever possible?
  3. In these difficult economic times there is a great interest in keeping jobs in the country instead of sending money overseas. To what extent do you support the use of free software that is installed and managed by locals (keeping the money in the economy) instead of importing software at great taxpayer expense?
  4. Commercial software has a limited support period, after that time has elapsed there is no further support and systems become increasingly unreliable. Do you support mandating that all systems relating to the emergency services run on free software to allow quality long-term support by local citizens?
  5. There has been a lot of concern recently about the spread of child-porn. The best available evidence shows that insecure home PCs that run “Trojan Horse” programs are a key part of distributing it and other illegal material. Do you support the introduction of government programs to train parents in installing one of the more secure free operating systems on their home PC to protect their children?

This is just a rough draft. Obviously there needs to be local differences (EG don’t use point 3 in the US because MS brings money into the US economy).

Does anyone have any suggestions for other questions?

7 comments to Lobbying for Free Software

  • Kristof Provost

    Can we pretty please not sink to the level of the ‘Think of the children!!!’ crowd and argue our case without scaring people with child porn?

  • I think question #5 is a little too much of political hardball. in reality, we should be asking “Do you support federal funding of training programs, to train parents in the install and use of free software designed to protect their computers, and therefore their children?”

    I find training in the installation and use of free software virus scanners, the use of a dansguardian box in the home, and if possible, the install of a Free operating system to be a more appropriate path of assistance. there is a much larger net of assistance to be cast than just installing an OS. You will get shot down by parents who ALSO need their computers for work, with windows. the government should be helping THOSE people, as well.

  • You should probably drop number 5, because it’s a false solution to the problem. Though Linux is certainly more secure than Windows, once a hacker does make it in (and with non-expert home users making security mistakes, this *will* happen) Linux is arguably a much better platform for hackers once they’ve taken it over because it’s a lot easier to get to a useful command shell once you have access to the machine.

  • etbe

    Regarding the “think of the children” issue. In Australia the Howard government spent a moderate amount of money before the last election trying to buy votes with this issue (see the above URL). We also have a party named “Family First” that solely exists to push a fundamentalist Christian agenda while supposedly protecting the children.

    I don’t see why we should avoid an issue that everyone else uses. But if we want to get agreement from the majority of the members of a LUG it might be necessary to tone it down a bit.

  • niq

    I’d drop references to “free software” (say “open source” if any software reference is necessary). What you have above risks reading like “I want everything but I won’t pay for anything”, which is entirely the wrong emphasis, and risks readers categorising you along with the likes of illegal filesharers.

  • Brendan Scott

    OSIA has been doing this for the last couple of Federal Elections. See:,major-aussie-political-parties-back-open-source.aspx

    However, doing these surveys does take a couple of days of time…

  • etbe

    niq: I want my government to get everything while spending as little of my tax money as possible. Also do you think we could put more emphasis on the fact that we want benefits for the less fortunate people in the community. The majority of LUG members can afford to buy a new Windows machine if they need to.

    Brendan: Thanks for that. However the OSIA doesn’t have the pull that the LUGs do. A LUG is more local and is better for state elections, and Linux Australia has a bigger profile. Even if the LUGs and LA were to just echo the OSIA results (and state that OSIA is representing them by asking questions) that would be a significant improvement over the current situation.