Why freedom matters

From: David Mertz <voting-project_at_gnosis_dot_cx>
Date: Mon Aug 18 2003 - 19:53:12 CDT

|For one thing, I think this freeness of the GPL (or other
|scheme) software is a bit illusory when it comes to voting

Alan's note still misses the fundamental issue about licensing. For a
helpful start, see:


Which begins:
``Free software'' is a matter of liberty, not price. To understand the
concept, you should think of ``free'' as in ``free speech,'' not as in
``free beer.''

Free software is a matter of the users' freedom to run, copy, distribute,
study, change and improve the software. More precisely, it refers to four
kinds of freedom, for the users of the software:

- The freedom to run the program, for any purpose (freedom 0).
- The freedom to study how the program works, and adapt it to your needs
  (freedom 1). Access to the source code is a precondition for this.
- The freedom to redistribute copies so you can help your neighbor
  (freedom 2).
- The freedom to improve the program, and release your improvements
  to the public, so that the whole community benefits (freedom 3).
  Access to the source code is a precondition for this.

A program is free software if users have all of these freedoms. Thus, you
should be free to redistribute copies, either with or without
modifications, either gratis or charging a fee for distribution, to anyone
anywhere. Being free to do these things means (among other things) that
you do not have to ask or pay for permission.

The fact that vendors (counties/states will probably farm out the task;
but not necessarily in all cases in the future) need to pay many
kilodollars to certify a specific version for elections use is entirely
irrelevant to every one of these freedoms.

The freedom of the code will let users--i.e., ultimately voters--examine
the code in every way they wish to. For example (but not only), security
researchers will have the complete implementation available to attempt
cryptographic attacks against, and to model ballot tampering threats.
Not only if the code is accidentally left on an FTP site, but up-front,
and overtly.

The freedom of the code will let elections agencies and vendors in
countries other than the USA use (and audit) the code for their own
elections. The certification issues are probably different elsewhere, and
may cost more or less, but the issue is to allow democrats (small "d")
worldwide benefit from what we learn and implement. For that matter, the
freedom of the code will let non- or less regulated elections in the USA,
or outside it, use the code (i.e. university student elections, or union
elections) if they so wish.

For that matter, the freedom of the code will let a new vendor utilize the
full code base to make an alternative EVM that is better in some way
(maybe improved user interface, maybe better security design, maybe
cheaper, etc). The new vendor will need to certify their modified
version, of course; but the next vendor after that will also (under the
GPL[*]) be permitted to build on those improvements... hence making
elections continually more fair, and more secure, over time.

 [*] Or perhaps the "EVMPL"==GPL+Doug's revision log requirement.

To me (and I -know- I can speak for Anand, and Matt, and Skip, and Matteo
here; and I -suspect- I can for Arthur and Doug too), the issue of free
code is at least as important as the issue of ballot paper trail. Systems
that are open in this way cannot hide security flaws for long, the way
that under-audited (certification, though costly, if pro forma)
proprietary machines can. Even a DRE machine that used entirely free code
would be a huge boost to election integrity[*]; but of course, adding a paper
ballot to the process makes it that much better.

Yours, David...

[*] For roughly this reason, Australia and India are both more
democratic than the USA, even though they use DRE machines. Well,
obviously there are many additional issues to a functioning democracy
than the integrity of elections alone--but as we all realize here,
that's an important pre-condition.
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Received on Sun Aug 31 23:17:12 2003

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