Bankrupting the NSA with Tails & defeating TTIP

On Tuesday July 8th 2014 I was once more a guest on Max Keiser's programme 'The Keiser Report'. Max is a former Wall Street trader who foresaw the current economic crisis a decade ago. On his show he lets rip on the insane financial system and allows his guests to do the same.

Max asked me about the handbook 'Information Security for Journalists' I co-authored with journalist Silkie Carlo. The tools and methods it describes can help is slowing down the NSA by increasing the cost of surveiling individuals by a factor of about 1 million. We also discussed the latest US-inspired attempt-at-corporate-takeover-disquised-as-trade-agreement known as TTIP. I think this wil be defeated in the same way as its smaller precursors ACTA and SOPA before it because it is not in Europe's interest. This will require some serious action on behalf of Europeans since our politicians seem a tad slow in recognising the patterns here.

Full Keiserreport episode here on RT site and here on Youtube.

The other IT from another Europe

Also on Consortium News and Huffington Post

Over the last 10-15 years public IT in Europe has not developed in line with public interests, nor does it guarantee the fundamental rights of citizens such as privacy and freedom of expression. Tremendous opportunities in the field of economic development and employment have also been missed. Europe effectively outsources much of its information processing (software & services) to foreign parties at the direct cost of hundreds of billions of Euros (typically around 1% of GNP). The opportunity-cost to local economic growth and employment opportunities are much greater than that. Even more costly than either of these is the de-facto handing over of control of data of governments, businesses and individual citizens to foreign spies who use it for political manipulation, repression of citizens' freedoms and industrial espionage. Although the warnings about the negative consequences of current policies date back at least 15 years, these aspects have been documented in irrefutable detail over the last year by the revelations of Edward Snowden. 12 months later there has not even been the beginning of a policy response.

It could all have been so different ...

In the first 21 months of the 21st century, the dot-com bubble burst and then three skyscrapers in New York collapsed. Between these two events a largely forgotten report to the European Parliament appeared in the summer of 2001. This report described the scale and impact of electronic espionage in Europe by the U.S. and its 'Echelon' partners (Canada, UK, Australia and New Zealand). Besides a detailed problem analysis, the report also gave concrete examples of IT policies that governments could take to significantly limit foreign intelligence spying on Europe.

In the same period was U.S. government won one of the largest anti-trust cases its history, against Microsoft, and the EU followed this victory by launching a similar case that would also be won leading to the highest fine to a company for economic crimes in the history of the EU.

It was against this background that thinking about strategic versus operational aspects of IT in the public sector changed. The report on Echelon made it clear that reducing IT into a merely operational exercise had disastrous consequences on the sovereignty of European states with respect to, in particular, the United States (and perhaps in the near future, China, other technically capable countries or non-state organizations). The economic consequences of industrial espionage against many high-tech and R&D-intensive companies became a major concern for the government.

Kerckhoffs lecture: what Europe needs to do after Snowden

At 12:30 on Friday 13th of June 2014 I will give the Kerckhoff Lecture at the Radboud Universities Kerckhoffs Institute for information security in Nijmegen in room HG00.068. For an audience of students and faculty who probably know more about the maths of cryptography than myself I will talk about the tech-policy implications of the Snowden revelations and why Europe has been doing so very, very little.

Imagine a whistleblower releasing detailed documentary proof of a group of organisations that dump large volumes of toxic mixed chemical waste in European rivers and lakes. The documents describe in detail how often (daily) and how toxic (very). Now imagine journalists, civic organisations and elected representatives all starting furious discussions about how bad this is and what the possible horrible consequences theoretically could be for european citizens.

Now imagine that this debate goes on and on for months as slowly more documentation is published showing ever more detailed descriptions of the various compounds in the toxic chemicals and what rivers and lakes precisely they are being dumped into.

Now imagine that no journalist, civic organisation or elected representative comes up with a single concrete and actionable proposal to stop the actual and ongoing toxic dumping or to prevent future organisations getting into the habit of illegal dumping.

Imagine also that both governments and public-sector organisations, including the ones responsable for health- and environmental matters continue not only to procure products and services from above organisations but also continue to give them the licences they need to operate.

Imagine that this goes on for month after month after month for a full year.

Now Imagine it turns out that the Government not only already knew about this 13 years before but also had a detailed report on practical solutions to clean up the mess and prevent future poisoning.

Imagine that.

Sounds incredible does it not?

Except this is precisely how Europe has been not-dealing with the revelations by Edward Snowden on industrialised mass-surveillance of our government & civic institutions, companies and citizens.

The EU has spent most of a year holding meetings and hearings to 'understand' the problem but has not produced a single word on what concrete actions could regain the right to privacy for its citizens now. This while a July 2001 report on Echelon, the NSA/GCHQ precursor program to the current alphabet soup, explained the scope of the problem of electronic dragnet surveillance and made practical and detailed recomendations that would have protected Europeans and their institutions had they been implemented. Currently only Germany has seen the beginnings of policies that will offer some protection for its citizens.

On Friday the 13th of June I will discuss the full scope of the NSA surveillance problem, the available technological and policy solutions and some suggestions about why they have not and are not being implemented (or even discussed).

Slides from lecture are here in ODF and PDF

Letter to Parliamentary Committee on Gov. IT projects

Letter below has been submitted to the Temporary Committee on Government IT. This document is a translation from the Dutch original.

Dear Members of the Committee on ICT ,

On June 1st, 2012 I was invited by your predecessors to contribute to the expert meeting of the Parliamentary Working Group on ICT projects in government. The written submission that I made at that time is here, including a video of those hearings (in Dutch).

As an IT architect but also as a concerned citizen, I have been actively involved with the IT policy of the government since 2002, focusing on the areas of electronic health records, security and open standards / open source software. On the latter issue I was the initiator of the 2002 Parliamentary 'Motion Vendrik' that advocated greater independence from dominant software suppliers. Last year I also served as a technical expert on the Committee of Minister Plasterk who advised on the (im)possibilities of electronic support for the electoral process.

Although this motion Vendrik from 2002 was translated into the Heemskerk Action Plan in 2007, this policy was quietly killed in 2010/11 by the lobbying power of large software vendors and the U.S. government. Even the Court-of-Audit was pressured to *not* ask certain questions in its 2011 report on the policy. Since 2002, the Netherlands has spent about 60-90 billion on foreign software, for which in many cases free, equally good or better alternatives are available. Their use is, however, actively hindered by both the Ministries of Education and Interior, as well as the VNG supported by the lobbying apparatus of major suppliers and the U.S. government.

This despite Justice Minister Donner's 2004 letter to Parliament in response to the Motion Vendrik where he admitted that:

  • the government's dependence on Microsoft was very great;
  • that this was a problem ;
  • and that by introducing open standards and the use of open source that could be solved.

This dependence has since become much greater and more than one billion Euro was spent on Microsoft licenses over the last decade. That money would have paid for 10,000 man-years of expertise to migrate away from Microsoft products. A large part of the money spent would have remained in the Dutch economy and returned to the state through tax and VAT. Not that 10,000 man-years would have been needed. The Municipality of Ede did it against the odds for a fraction of the cost and now saves 92 % on software expenses (and 25% on overall budget). The rest of the government has yet to take steps. Why is an important question.

In memoriam: Aaron Schwarz 1986 - 2013

Not sure what to say about the sudden death of Aaron Schwarz, idealist, freedom-fighter-extraordinaire and friend of open access to information for all of humanity. Aaron spend his life fighting for humanity's highest ideals, contributing to technologies most of us use every day (even if we don't know it). It just feels like something is very, very wrong is the so-called 'free world' is killing its best and brightest for living up to its highest ideals. We've got big problems and cannot afford to lose people like Aaron.

Cory Doctorow has written a eulogy here, Prof Lawrence Lessig had an overview of the case the US Department of Justice (ha!) saw fit to launch against Aaron. Glen Greenwald wrote about his heroic work in helping to defeat SOPA over the last years. A digital memorial to Aaron will be here for as long as there is an Internet. The files that started the case can be found here. Spread them around as wisely as possible.

But mostly just watch Aaron's speeches and interviews, as many times as needed before you understand his ideas and ideals fully.

Update 28-06-2014: A documentary on the case Aaron Swartz - The Internet's Own Boy is now available online. Also on

Windows 8 does not have to be a disaster

<originally a Webwereld column - in Dutch - also on HuffPo UK>

Klik voor grotere afbeelding

Gartner, IT-journalists and even former employees of Microsoft agree: Windows 8 will be a disaster. The Metro interface designed for tablets (a market that virtually does not exist in relation to MS-Windows) is unworkable on a desktop with a vertical non-touch screen, keyboard and mouse. Most office spaces still have this and most run legacy applications with interfaces that rely on a Windows PC using a keyboard and mouse. It is precisely the ongoing purchase of desktop PCs with the combination of MS-Windows and MS Office that has kept Microsoft financially afloat over the last 15 years

The combination of legacy applications (mostly proprietary) and familiarity with MS Office, led many IT organisations to automatically buy the new Windows platform, despite the high cost of licences and support. The inevitable result is a world of pain, with new interfaces, a lack of compatibility and the sudden cessation of support for critical components. IT policy is organised around coping with these problems instead of focusing on sustainable alternative solutions. And solving or mitigating these problems requires so much time and money that there is often little left over to plan further ahead. Thus, in many organisations the perfect vicious circle has existed for so long that many IT people can not even see it.

Why Freedom, Eben Moglen keynote in Berlin

Eben Moglen explains the biggest and most important fight for civil liberties in the next decade. Nothing the Free Software Foundation has not been saying for over 20 years but now more important than ever. Freedom requires freedom of thought and this requires freedom of media and communications. These cannot be guaranteed if private interests, controlling or controlled by governments can interfere with the functioning of the information networks and devices. Freedom requires free technology (where free means free as-in-freedom) where the people using the technology control what is does for them and how it does it. I talked about this in 2010 and many times before and after on this blog.

Doublethink and Zen

<originally a Dutch Webwereld column>

Doublethink is a concept that was introduced by George Orwell in his famous novel '1984 '. It is a mental mechanism that allows people to believe sincerely and simultaneously two completely opposing ideas without a problem.

In the ten years that I have been involved with open source and open standards in the Dutch public sector, I have encountered many double thinkers. So for years I have endured “experts” and insiders patiently explaining that the migration to open source desktops within that community would be impossible, because civil servants could not work with other platforms. Asking non-techies to use anything but the Windows + Office desktop they were taught at Dutch schools would lead to disaster. It Just Could Not Happen.

The certainty with which this (to this day) is  mouthed as an aphorism everywhere has always amazed me. Previously, the Netherlands had migrated from WP5.2 in DOS to Windows Word 6, yet the Earth kept turning, children went to school and there was water from the tap.

Multiple migrations, mostly outside the Netherlands, have also demonstrated that ordinary users can do their work well with alternative platforms, provided they are given some training and support (something, indeed, that is perfectly normal when migrating to new releases of the usual proprietary systems).

The same people who for years have claimed with great certainty that "It Just Could Not Happen” have been busily rolling out iPads to the many managers and directors, who for many and varied reasons discover they need one. Apparently the adoption of an entirely different platform with a totally different interface is not as problematic as was asserted for all those years. Huh?

ACTA and SOPA are great!

<originally a Dutch column>

Socially aware people are, often justifiably, very good at moral indignation, but they just as often display a touching naivety. I recently watched with some surprise the American Occupy activists who were shocked (shocked I tell you!) as policemen (or university rent-a-cops) launched unprovoked attacks using batons and pepper spray.

It is indeed despicable that these officials use so much violence. But if people are still shocked by this in 2011, one has to wonder where they've been hiding for the last 10 years – have they not watched the news? Did they think that they could let stolen elections, illegal wars of aggression, shooting children with anti-tank weapons and the torture of innocent civilians happen without the ultimate consequence of their govenment using the same force against them?

But even the naive indignation of some Occupy activists about their government and its boot boys, is nothing compared to the childish surprise of the IT press about ACTA and SOPA. The copyright industry has for decades lobbied for the length of copyright to stretch to the end-of-time-plus-a-day extra.

Sony has no problems with infecting computers of their customers with what amounts to a virus.  A torrent of writs has poured forth from the offices of copyright enforcement. Babies and the elderly without a PC, deceased persons, and even a HP laser printer have been falsely accused of copyright infringement (labeled as “theft” by the lawyers of the industry). Surely we all know the kinds of organisations we are facing now?

iTunes for ebooks

<originally a Webwereld column - in Dutch>

In 1996 I got my first MP3s. Storage was expensive, so I burned files onto CD-ROMs. There were 10 to 12 audio CDs on a CD-ROM. Conversion of an audio CD to a series of MP3s lasted hours using an encoder from the command line. They could only be played on a PC (or a very expensive laptop) so I had no good answer to the frequent question from family and friends: “why do you bother?”.  Except that I was confident that bigger hard drives and smaller, cheaper laptops would evolve. I first had an audio PDA in 2000 – with a 256Mb memory card that could hold a few albums. I've forgotten what all that has cost, but probably quite a lot.

A year later, Apple came out with iTunes to make it easy to manage digital music collections. The first iPods with graphical software came along soon after, and MP3s were accessible to a wider audience. The result is that virtually all music can be downloaded from somewhere. It is up to the individual whether to pay for it, because downloading is not illegal in many countries and even where it is, there has been little noticeable effect on people's behavior.

It's a trap!

<originally a Dutch column for Webwereld>

What is a document? It started as a flat piece of beaten clay, onto which characters were scratched with a stick. 8000 years later it was found and after years of study, archaeologists concluded that it said: 'You owe me three goats”. 

Through papyrus and parchment scrolls we arrived at mass production of paper and book printing in Europe in the 15th century. Our sense of the nature of a document is still derived from this previous revolution in information capture and distribution. When computers became commonplace as a tool to create documents, there was therefore a strong focus on applications to produce paper document as quickly and nicely as possible. The creation had become digital, but the final result was not fundamentally different from the first printed book in 1452.

Most word processors in use today cling to this concept. There are hundreds of functions for page numbering, footnotes and layout to achieve a legible final result - on paper. Many IT tools around the management and access of documents are directed to the concept of a digital document as a stack of paper. Ready to print for 'real' use. The modern ways of working together for various reasons no longer apply to a paper-oriented way of recording and distribution. Paper is static, local, and now much slower and more expensive to transport than bits. It is this combination of restrictions has led to new ways of creating documents where both the creative process and the end result is digital. A famous example is Wikipedia, the world's largest encyclopaedia with millions of participants continually writing and rewriting about the latest insights in technology, science, history, culture or even the biography of Dutch folk singer Andre Hazes.


<originally a webwereld column in Dutch>, <also on HuffPo UK>

Over nine years ago, I was talking to Kees Vendrik <Dutch MP) about the broken Dutch software market. Not only was it impossible to buy a top brand laptop without buying a Microsoft Windows licence, it was also impossible to visit many websites (municipalities, Dutch railways and many others) without using Internet Explorer. The latter area has greatly improved and I can lead my life using my OS and browser of choice. Only occasionally do I have to just swallow a Windows licence when buying a new laptop. Not much has improved in that area. Our national dependence on products such as MS Office has not really diminished either, despite all the wishes of our Parliament and its related governments policies.

Meanwhile, the technological seismic shift that frightened Bill Gates so much back in '95 (the web makes the operating system irrelevant) is fast becoming reality. Almost all new developments discussed by IT power players and specialists are web-based or based on open specifications and the most commonly used applications are running quite well as service in a browser.

Doctor, doctor ...

<webwereld column>

Actieplan Heemskerk

A MP stumbles, coughing, into the doctor's surgery. There is blood pouring from the ears and nose and left eye. “Doctor, doctor, I've just had a bad fall and I think I've broken my wrist” gasps the MP. The doctor has a look and briefly feels the pulse. “Does that hurt?” “A little bit” mumbles the MP. “I don't think it's that bad” says the doctor. Unfortunately I can't check it today as the digital X-ray machine is broken”. The MP is swaying back and forth. “It's probably just a bruise, the nurse will give you a sling. Take it easy for a couple of days and come back if it's still painful.”  The MP staggers out of the surgery, still bleeding from the ears, nose and eye. The doctor is already focused on the file of the next patient, because doctors are very busy.

The process described above resembles the way the Court of Audit went about answering MPs questions about our national IT strategy. The MPs asking those questions were not experts and the Court provided simplistic answers without providing any context or stopping to consider whether the symptoms might be part of a broader problem. The newly-published report failed to respond  even to the superficial questions and, moreover, based its answers on minimal data.  Which is a disgrace, as it is precisely the role of the Court to delve into the deeper issues.

Asbestos is also useful

AsbestFor decades throughout the Western world houses were built with asbestos. The material is affordable, durable, insulating and also has excellent fire resistant properties. All this - and the low price – made it the ideal stuff to use for everything. Which is what we did.

As long as the asbestos remains safely in place, nothing much happens. It does its job and you don't need to think about it. The problems begin when changes are made, such as a conversion. The demolition of a such a wall releases microscopic asbestos fibres, resulting in enormous danger to the health of anyone who has the misfortune to be nearby. Consequently the processing of asbestos is very strictly regulated. Despite these regulations, asbestos has for decades caused twice as many deaths as road accidents.

Because the long-term consequences of the use of asbestos is so damaging, its use is now prohibited. All this, despite the fact that the original reasons for using still exist: asbestos is still cheap, strong, durable, insulating and fire resistant. Yet we now don't use it because the social price is just too high. Strategic and social reasons are more important than practical and technical advantages.

Parliament's questions to the Court of Audit

Actieplan HeemskerkPreamble
The Lower House of the Dutch Parliament has asked the Court of Audit to investigate the problems and opportunities related to the adoption of open standards and open source software for the government's information systems. The Court has invited various experts to give their views. This blog post is my contribution.

The questions are being asked to the highest supervisory body of the country, rather than the departments responsible for implementing this policy - the Ministries of Home Affairs, and also Economic Affairs, Agriculture & Innovation - eight years after the government's first unanimous vote on this issue and the expenditure of about 5 billion euros on licensing fees. The impression given to the outside world is that Parliament is not impressed with the progress of the last eight years and believes that the relevant government departments could benefit from the external scrutiny of a neutral and objective body.

Each of the following five questions implies a series of unspoken assumptions. In order to answer the questions, it is necessary to identify and, where neccesary, challenge these underlying assumptions in order to reach a sensible answer.

Cloud computing, from the frying pan into the fire

In a recent column (Dutch), Frank Benneker of Amsterdam University explored the consequences of the rapidly growing use of cloud computing. The shift of computer applications from PCs and servers to a single "service" provided through a worldwide network is probably as fundamental a shift as the earlier one from mainframe computing to PCs.

Given the objectives of the Dutch Open standards and interoperability policy plan, cloud computing seems the quick and easy-to-implement solution: I hear Web 2.0 enthusiasts say “put everything on Google Docs and we are all interoperable”. But just as in the case of the "liberation" of PCs from mainframe managers/suppliers, there are problems with cloud computing – potential snakes in the grass.

In December 2004 the Dutch government decided that the dependency on dominant software providers was a problem and had to be addressed. The Dutch action plan from 2007 was the first, tentative step in dealing with this.

Article in Surgeon's journal

The Dutch Journal for Surgeons, publishes an article written by my collegue Younass and myself. We wrote this article to further explain some of the points we made during our  keynote at the natinal Convention of Surgeons last month. The entire article here in English and Dutch, the PDF of the journal here. Background links and articles here (mostly Dutch).

Ubuntu 'protects' against Microsoft claims

Dutch IT magazine 'Webwereld' (1, 2) asked me to comment on the news that Canonical, the makers of Ubuntu Linux, is offering legal protection against potential patent claims of Microsoft on Linux. Red Hat provides a comparable service and refers to it as a 'necessary evil'

The vast majority of software patents are not legally recognized in Europe, making this one of those typical American problems mostly designed to make lawyers very rich. But leaving that aside, how solid are the claims anyway? 2003 Microsoft invested in the anemic software provider SCO to sue IBM on the basis of alleged ownership of  crucial Unix/Linux components. The case lasted many years and achieved  nothing. Except of course a lot of confusion in the marketplace amongst IT buyers who were considering moving to Linux, thereby sometimes delaying a firm decision. It would seem that this was the primary original objective.

Kroes: vendor lock-in a waste of money

In a recent speech EU Commissioner Neelie Kroes stated that badly functioning IT markets and high vendor dependence have far-reaching consequences for the functioning of public bodies and companies in Europe. There is much to be gained, both economically and functionally, by focusing on open standards and open source software. 'This is a waste of public funds no government can afford any longer.'

The Dutch IT magazine has a summary of the speech with my comments (original in Dutch - Google translation here). English commentary on the speech here, here and here.

Opensource policy talk at SigInt 2010

Actieplan HeemskerkA short summary of my talk for the 2010 CCC SigInt conference in Cologne, Germany.

Most European governments are busy migrating important components of their IT-systems to opensource alternatives. The Netherlands was the first western country to develop a comprehensive policy for its entire public sector in 2007 but is lagging its neighbors in working implementations. The comprehensive policy in the Netherlands is focused on the practical advantages of open systems such as interoperability and lower cost and no vendor-lock, these reasons are also shared by policies in the UK and Denmark.

German, Spanish and French policies seem to have a more political dimension by also stressing national independence of critical systems and the possibility of code-audits as important reasons for going the open route. By comparing Dutch progress (and sometimes lack thereof) with our neighboring countries some lessons can be learned about what policies work and what some of the required conditions are for them to work in different political and IT-legacy environments.

Opensource policy needs a 'Why'

Tux in PeruIn 2002 Peru had a coherent action plan for open standards and open source. That went way beyond the Dutch action plan of five years later and was probably far ahead of its time. Where the strengths of the Dutch plan lie in focusing on practical operational goals such as interoperability, market forces and strengthening the local economy, the Peruvian plan made no attempts to hide its political mission.

Hacking policy talk at HAR2009

Had fun doing talk this afternoon at HAR2009. While I was taking a nap afterward someone wrote a very nice review on the HAR wiki.

I re-iterated many of the points I made at the CCC-conference in Berlin. My main points were also written down in english in a recent interview with the Indian Center for Internet & Society.

To spice things up a bit I added a new aspect about areas of public sector IT that should be under ultimate control by public sector organisations. I'm still refining these ideas but this is the gist of it:

In modern nations many laws and policies are implemented through software and supporting computer systems. Control over these systems is therefore control over the functioning of the state and its laws. A democratic government should therefore have total control over critical information processing functions, on behalf of its citizens. Having access to the sourcecode and the right to compile it into working binaries is a crucial part of this control. Examples of area's of application are voting tabulation, national defense&security, the police- and justice system, power grids, water and sewage systems, Air-traffic, harbour and transport control systems and the national media. Opensourcing these critical government applications and supporting systems is therefore a required step for continued national sovereignty.

The CC-licenced slides are here: ODF, PDF. Thanks to Y0landa for taking the above picture and making it available.


Smarter working

Imagine that all the modern communication tools of today are not be available to you. No mail, no chat, no Twitter, Facebook or phone. Now imagine that you are a company with 50 employees who need to be in daily contact. How do you solve it? With them all working at the same location. Simple puzzle, right?

Now let us turn the question around: all these modern tools are available to you, so why are you going to the office every day? And as a bonus question: are you aware that a hundred years ago we were driving around with a horse and carriage?

Our computers remind us daily of old-fashioned working methods: we neatly arrange our files and folders in our digital filing cabinet every evening before we go home. To share information with colleagues we make a copy of the folder and forward it on. And if we make changes, there are suddenly two versions of the document. Colleagues can also modify the file, and then there are three.

Interview by Indian Centre for Internet and Society

On april 7th Aldert, Brenno and me had the pleasure if dining with Sunil Abraham. Sunil used to work for the UN Development Program and is now Policy Director of the Indian Centre for Internet and Society. We discussed the difficulties of bringing technology to rural places in India and the impact of product-oriented IT-education. After dinner Brenno interviewed Sunil for his weekly podcast (pocast in Dutch, interview in English from 05:15). Sunil also wanted to interview me about my experiences lobbying for open standards and opensource in the Netherlands and he did so by mail. The result can be read here.

Brenno interviewing Sunil on bringing IT to India

Carribean opensource

Kakatu_300 Last week I was visiting the Dutch Caribbean by invitation of the local government to do the opening keynote (ODF 1 2) on their conference on open standards and opensource. Curacao, one of the islands of the Dutch Antillies is about to become fully independent nation state and that means a lot of re-design of the local IT systems of the government and public sector. The government is determined to maximise the opportunities offered by open standards and opensource software to move the new governemnt, the local educational system and economy forward. For education an OLPC project is being considered because 3 PCs per school is not the way into the 21st century. Hopefully the new Internet Exchange (based on the Dutch one) will bring down the cost of bandwith so that all those OLPC's will be able to go online.

Presentation at LinuxTag

Arjen at LinuxTagOn Saturday May 31st Gendo presented its experience on changing national policy on open standards and opensource at LinuxTag 2008. The slides are here in ODF and PDF. LinuxTag is Europe's largest opensource conference with over 11.000 participants from 31 countries. Doing a talk there was a lot of fun and I'm looking forward to next year.

Linux Magazine Germany has a writeup of the talk here. and reported on the Dutch opensource policyplan earlier this year. The presentation was not recorded but an earlier (similar) presentation was taped last december at the CCC congess, also in Berlin.


3D Opensource printer

Fabber Twenty years ago my economics teacher told us 'Economics is the science of human choice under conditions of scarcity'. This definition always stuck in my mind because economists seem to invest all their energy in vain attempts to model the choice bit and assume the scarcity bit is a given. Material scarcity may seem a given (like the speeds of light or the fact that a peanut butter sandwich always drops on the floor with the wrong side down) because until now it has always been there. It used to be that hand axes were in short supply and now there's a permanent shortage of the latest generation of mobile phones. Making stuff takes effort and this effort has to be compensated by either a goat or digits in the memory of a bank computer.

But what if we were to take on the scarcity problem, instead of spending endless TV-news business sections discussing the behavioural consequences that are caused by it. Would that not be a much better use of our time? On the Internet nowadays scarcity for most people is not a problem, too much of everything is more of an issue. Selection and filtering of available information, news and media is the challenge, not its production, reproduction or dissemination.

Conservatives want opensource

Mavericks_2 Conservative party leader David Cameron held a speech at the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts on April 3rd. Aside from the usual criticism (not all undeserved) at the current government he talked about the network society and bottom-up collaboration enable by ubiquitous access to IT. He (or his staffer) had obviously read "Mavericks at Work: Why the Most Original Minds in Business Win" by William C. Taylor and Polly G. Labarre. And a good thing too since it is filled with good examples of how to innovate by sticking your neck out and doing things differently.

About three quarters through the speech Cameron very explicitly stated that his government, if elected, would actively seek a greater use of opensource software and mandate the use of open standards for public IT systems. According to him this will enable faster innovation in the public sector while avoiding repeats of the very expensive NHS disaster.

Desktop mono-culture for the Dutch

The Dutch national government is proceeding with its new implementation of 'GOUD' (Gold), its new plan for a 'standardized desktop' for ministries and other governmental institutions. After the much publicized new Dutch National IT-policy of last autumn this might sound wonderful. It's not.

The problem with the 'standardized desktop' is that it uses very few real standards. Instead it uses products and pretends they are standards. The difference between 'standards' and the idea of 'standards products' is widely misunderstood, often confused and this is where projects such as 'GOUD' go off in troublesome directions.

Opensource lobbying presentation in Berlin

Just did a talk about my adventures in policy-land changing Dutch national policy on opensource and open standards. For a summary of the talk and video read on...

On January 1st, 2002 I tried to use the website of the Dutch national railway ( using Linux. The site refused me access, it was IE-only. This sparked a conversation with members of parliament about the need for open standards. Over a five year period I progressed from talking to opposition-MP's to meeting the economics minister directly and was able to significantly influence national policy despite total lack of funding or any specific mandate.