Nagarjuna G., chairman of Free Software Foundation of India (FSFI) and faculty member at the Homi Bhabha Centre for Science Education at Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, on Tuesday cautioned against e-governance using proprietary software, terming it a “dangerous practice”.

Delivering a talk on free and open standards at a conference on free and open source software (FOSS) at the Federal Institute of Science and Technology (FISAT) at Angamaly, he said barring a few States like Kerala, public documents were mostly encoded in the proprietary format which meant the public did not enjoy freedom from the proprietary companies, as they ‘owned' the decoder.

“Public documents belong to each one of us and, therefore, we must urgently do something about it. e-governance using proprietary software is dangerous as it replaces people and is non-transparent. It takes away power [of knowledge] from the people and gives it to the monopolists,” he said.

“Creating proprietary software is neither an invention nor an innovation, because the code is arbitrary… A language, which cannot be read by the public [as the decoder is proprietary], is dangerous in a digital society and should not be used for public administration,” he said.

“So if we want to preserve documents, whether digital or any other media, we should publish the syntax and semantics of its language and make them accessible as free standards using free software.”

Referring to an expert committee report submitted to the Union Ministry of Information Technology last year, Mr. Nagarjuna said there should be a single, open (royalty-free) standard, instead of multiple standards, for performing a single task on computers.

“The industry, however, wanted to protect the freedom of the vendor and the developer to create custom data formats, which restrain the freedom of the user,” he rued.

Mr. Nagarjuna cited ‘EMax' invented by free software guru Richard Stallman as rendering a wide variety of operations using a single application. Earlier, Amarnath Raja, CEO of InApp Solutions, presented a paper on FOSS and ethics.

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