Home In Russia, Source Opens You!

In Russia, Source Opens You!

While the United States seemed to move from a possible OpenID login to more of a “secure” intranet approach, Russia has moved from commercial software to open source. The two moves may not seem to have much in common, but they do. Control.

Under the banner of security, the U.S. has announced the creation of a “verified” ID program that looks for all the world like a walled, or at least fenced, section of the Internet. Russia has moved to open source not out of a philosophical belief in free software, but out of fear of American software hegemony.

Back Door

Putin recently signed an executive order requiring all Russian governmental organizations and departments to go open source by 2015 and establishing the creation of a Russian open source software repository. Although this will save billions for the government, the reason behind a similar move among U.S. municipalities, the move seems more closely related to national security. Proprietary software – from Microsoft, Google and so on – puts Russia in a state of dependence on a sector that is overwhelmingly American.

There is also the issue of “back doors” in U.S. software. Are there any such points of access built into software at the behest of the American government? It seems doubtful. If there’s evidence to that effect, it’s in short supply. But the fear of it is a powerful motivator.

As the Internet and the web see more action as geopolitical battlefields, the willingness of countries to run their governments on software designed, built and sold by other countries decreases. Already, Iran has announced a move to open source and China is investigating the practicality of doing so. Turkey is examining the possibility of creating a national search engine and a national email system.

The Politics of Information

The politics of information seems to have always swung back and forth. For a while, any new way of sharing information seems like a liberation, with governments ignoring what they perceive as a fad or fringe-concern. Eventually, though, they catch on and it swings in the other other direction, with repressive laws and arrests and efforts to silo information.

Governments know that high-tech communications tools create wealth. But they are also aware they carry dissent. It is no exaggeration to say the effort to free information tech to create wealth, while simultaneously limiting its capacity to carry anti-government speech, occupies most governments today.

Will the creation of controllable, national information systems be successful? You underestimate government efforts at your peril, but you can likewise underestimate the (metaphorical) desire of information to move. We may well be witnessing the beginning of the end for the pretty fiction of the web as a liberating technology. But if that proves to be so, it would be surprising indeed if another technology did not come along eventually and knock the counterweight back.

Putin photo from World Economic Forum | Kremlin photo by Andrew Bossi | Checkpoint photo by Tony Cassidy

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