UK Government: Closed Minds on Open Source


To its eternal shame, the UK Government uses far less open source than most. Worse, it seems to have a closed mind to the whole idea. That's evident in the guidelines that have been released to aid in the interpretation of amendments to Computer Misuse Act (CMA) of 1990 with respect to “unauthorised access to computer material” (aka cracking):

In determining the likelihood of an article being used (or misused) to commit a criminal offence, prosecutors should consider the following:

• Has the article been developed primarily, deliberately and for the sole purpose of committing a CMA offence (i.e. unauthorised access to computer material)?

• Is the article available on a wide scale commercial basis and sold through legitimate channels?

• Is the article widely used for legitimate purposes?

• Does it have a substantial installation base?

• What was the context in which the article was used to commit the offence compared with its original intended purpose?

This presupposes (a) that the program is “sold”, and that (b) there is some way to measure the installed base. For open source software, neither is true: it's not sold, and you generally have no idea many times a program has been copied and passed on.

Until the British Government starts taking open source seriously, and maybe even – whisper it – using the stuff, its computer legislation and guidelines relating to it are likely to remain deeply flawed in general and downright dangerous for free software in particular.

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