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Business - Written by on Sunday, July 27, 2008 22:20 - 0 Comments

Jeff DeChambeau
Run Linux? Save the World, Please.

Last week, O’Reilly Media hosted the 2008 Open Source Convention (OSCON) in Portland, Oregon. The conference is described as “the crossroads of all things open source, bringing together the best, brightest, and most interesting people to explore what’s new, and to champion the cause of open principles and open source adoption across the computing industry,” and featured speakers from all over the open source community. The talks and panels are (of course) available online.

Ongoing, a blog focused on truth, technology, and business, wrote a profile of one OSCON talk in particular, one given by Christine L. Peterson, on the topic of open source security in elections. Peterson argues that the US Government thinks that the best way to safeguard rights is to accumulate as much data as possible through numerous types of surveillance, and that the issue of transparency versus privacy is not even on their radar. Furthermore, Peterson thinks that this approach is fundamentally misguided, as terrorism is a bottom-up problem, and “they’re trying to solve a bottom-up problem with top-down tools.” This leads her to suggest that we need bottom-up physical security — and that the open source community is best tasked to develop this new breed of security systems.

Ongoing, however, runs with a point that Peterson makes about 10 minutes in: that all government initiatives using data collected from the public should be implemented with software that is not closed/secret-sourced. This means no private contracts, like what was done for e-voting. E-voting has not gone well, and Peterson thinks that the geeks bear some responsibility for this; she implies that the geeks (especially the open source community geeks) foresaw the issues with e-voting and did nothing, something that is especially bad because no one but the geeks even knew (or cared about) what was going on. So, there’s a call to arms for geeks to unite to ensure technology is problem designed and implemented by (technically inept) political well-wishers in DC.

Issues like privacy, transparency, and the open sourcing of software that plays out in the public domain are tremendously important subjects, but they’re equally tremendously unsexy. People don’t seem to want to learn about them, let alone fight for them. So, has it fallen to tech savvy citizens to step up, and lead society away from the potential pitfalls and abuses of new technology? Or have citizens got an obligation to educate themselves, and just pay the price if they don’t?

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