Free or Open Source Software Licenses for State Developed Software?

Hello Senator,

I was wondering if the idea that state developed software should be released under free or open source licenses is on the radar at all in the legislature. I.e. have you or your colleagues been exposed to the idea before and if you have what are your thoughts on it?

I see that you use open source software for your site and, while trying to see if this question has been asked, I see a suggestion from someone to use github (btw. there are other public git repositories — officially picking one vendor here as a matter of state policy isn’t wise I think), but what I’m asking about is, should not the Massachusetts departments that develop bodies of software release it with an appropriate license so that the public can examine and use that code?  I’m wondering if you are familiar with the arguments for and against the idea and if you’ve had discussions with members of the Free Software Foundation, whose offices are not far from the state house.

In case you are not familiar with the arguments, the Free Software Foundation Europe has a letter they’re campaigning with over there now:  (I saw this on a recent debian linux newsletter, which is what prompted me to ask you this question.)

And here are Richard Stallman’s more in depth thoughts on the issue:



3 replies on “Free or Open Source Software Licenses for State Developed Software?”

  1. Hi Michael,

    I’m big into open source software and have published a fair amount of it myself — I’ve published my constituent releationship management system, WP Isssues CRM at this link:

    I’m not sure I would want a policy that all government software be open source — some of that might open security holes. But if there are particular software assets that should be shared, I’d be interested to know about them.

    1. Thanks for publishing your code. That’s cool!

      It would have to be done carefully, but one argument for all government written source code needing to be available is for the public to be able to assess whether government systems are secure. Naturally, the departments involved would resist opening the code because they, like most programming departments even in private industry, know or fear there being many problems that they don’t want exposed. In the long run, though, transparency usually should work better. The pros and cons may depend on context, but the security experts I read (e.g. Bruce Schneier) don’t take seriously security by obscurity. If the state’s software would be exploited shortly after its source code were published, then it’s only a matter of time until someone exploits it with inside knowledge or by using some kind probing attack from outside.

      There are easier to meet levels of being free software friendly in government too. A minimal level would be to make sure systems and data formats the public uses can be used by people running GNU/Linux, BSD or something else other than Windows, MacOS or Android. If I remember rightly I ran into a problem with the new state tax web site last year along these lines. Maybe someone else here can correct me in case my memory is off (tax time is a bit of a blur), but seems to me, unlike in past years, this year I was unable to file my state taxes on the state’s website. It wouldn’t work under either Slackware Linux or OpenBSD. Ended up going out and getting the paper booklet and mailing in a paper form, IIRC.

      1. Yes. The tax website has gone backwards a bit, as a result, I understand of severing a relationship with a vendor (hope I have that part right).

        All sites should be mobile friendly, and I think all agree on that.

        But as to publishing software, I think that needs be for particular purposes in response to demonstrated demand.

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