Raj Mathur raju at linux-delhi.org
Sat Jul 18 05:55:15 PDT 2009

Since you asked, I continue to believe that openness and freedom in 
source code and openness and freedom in dealings with possibly 
underhanded tacticians cannot and must not be confused.  This is a 
mistake that many people make, in a number of fields.  For instance, I 
charge fairly high fees for my consulting in Linux and other FOSS 
technologies.  A number of potential clients have asked essentially the 
same question when hearing about my charges: "But how can you charge 
such high fees for free software?" and I have to explain the difference 
between keeping software free and giving away my time for free to them.

In a similar vein, I have been a member of the annual FSF Free Software 
Award committee for 5 years or more, and none of the deliberations of 
the committee (which also includes RMS, by the way) have ever been made 
public; nor is there any initiative or proposal to make the public.  
Confidentiality and secrecy exist at the very core of the organisation 
that is possibly the most vocal proponent of freedom in software in the 

The principle behind free software is that software is a global 
resource, and preventing access to software for personal gains is 
unethical.  That is fine as far as it goes, and I'm probably one of the 
more extreme proponents of freedom and openness in software in this 
country.  However that openness does not and need not necessarily extend 
to all my dealings with all individuals.  To take an extreme (but still 
relevant) example, just because you believe in FOSS does not mean that 
you perform your carnal lovemaking on Brigade Road where everyone can 
see you.  In fact, you will find that FOSS enthusiasts are also probably 
the biggest fans of personal privacy rights in any region.  Is that a 
dichotomy?  I don't think so -- freedom in software is not directly 
related to freedom in any other field of endeavour, since the objectives 
of software freedom are very focussed: deprecation of creation of 
artificial scarcities for purely personal gains.  The same concept can 
also work in some related areas (e.g. pharmaceuticals, agriculture, 
music, etc.), but not everywhere.  It is the concept that is to be 
extended and adapted, not just the words "open" and "free".

Coming to the specific issue at hand, we can have a consensus that as a 
group we will not entertain any confidential information from any well-
wisher, however useful that information may be to the cause at hand 
(Open Standards).  That is certainly a valid point of view, and speaking 
for myself I'd be glad to discuss that PoV (even if I don't agree with 
it).  However, if we do decide that we are open to industry, government 
and/or press tip-offs in confidence about our common adversaries' 
strategy and tactics, then I completely disagree with both points you 
have made: that we should break confidences other people have placed in 
us, and that acceptance of information in confidence is crippling to our 

I can visualise any number of scenarios where information is passed to 
one of us in secret which we can act on but have to keep confidential.  
For instance, a well-wisher in the DIT could let, say, Jaijit know that 
a large company is planning to delay the whole ratification process and 
in the meantime approaching the concerned politicians with promises of 
personal or regional gain to completely scrap the report by the 
committee and formulate a new committee that will come up with a more 
proprietary-software-friendly report.  If we have that information we 
could take steps to get the ratification process moving quickly and the 
report accepted in principle so that $proprietary_software_company's 
plans are scuttled at the outset itself.  I do not see how receiving 
that information makes us impotent in any way; nor do I see any benefits 
(while I do see lots of loss) from revealing the DIT contact's name to 
the rest of the world.

I do share your concerns about forming a power cabal within this 
organisation, which is one of the reasons I asked for weekly reports 
from the Working Group.  However, at some stage we will have to 
implicitly place our trust in individuals who have access to information 
or resources that are denied to us, and hope and (if you're religious) 
pray that they do right by us.  In the meantime, maybe we should be 
spending time working on a system of checks and balances to prevent that 
trust from being mutated into power.  For myself, I can only judge 
people by their past actions, and from those I do have faith in a large 
number of the participants on this mailing list, who have time and again 
proven their dedication to the cause of free and open software and 
standards in visible and measurable ways.


-- Raj

On Saturday 18 Jul 2009, OpenSpace wrote:
> I think this should go to the list, and not to me personally.
> 2009/7/18 Raj Mathur <raju at linux-delhi.org>
> > On Saturday 18 Jul 2009, OpenSpace wrote:
> > > [snip]
> > > What you are saying in essence is that The Free and Open Source
> > > Software Community be a Closed Cabal with Limited Disclosure when
> > > it comes to its own functioning, and sit on a moral high horse
> > > regarding closed proprietary systems?
> >
> > Please don't put words into my mouth -- that is not what I said at
> > all.
> I sincerely apologise. I thought it was clear (because I mentioned
> 'in essence') that it was my understanding. It is not my intention to
> put words into your mouth. Could you please state your position in
> about a sentence or two? sort of twitter it?
> > My meaning was very clear from the example I gave, and if you'd
> > like to discuss that I'd be more than glad to;
> You mention a working group, that will, at its discretion, share
> information with others--yet represent and negotiate on behalf of the
> community.. That to me is a closed cabal. And yes, APEX is a
> misnomer. Closed cabal fits it better than working group.
> > discussing a position that you
> > attribute to me, on the other hand, is non-productive for me, and I
> > have tons of other, more interesting non-productive activities to
> > indulge in before this one comes to the top of the list.
> Good to know you have at least some interesting and non-productive
> activities. But I don't see how it is relevant here. I see my
> involvement here as interesting and productive.
> > > Have confidence in openness and transparency... it is powerful,
> > > and more important, it works!
> >
> > I'm afraid that there will always be information passed in
> > confidence to FOSSCOMM members, and if I have a choice between
> > breaking a trust given to me by a friend and adhering to the
> > principles of openness and transparency, guess which one will
> > prevail?
> I suggest that you be afraid, very afraid, of 'friends' who pass on
> 'information' to you and ask you to keep it confidential. It only
> gives you a sense of being an 'insider' having 'privileged'
> information, but in reality makes you impotent, depriving you of your
> ability to act.
> We do not live in a world where shadows, cloaks and daggers will
> always prevail. A lot can be accomplished without revealing the
> source of information... and indeed, even journalists do publish
> 'confidential' information without revealing the source. So if you
> want to keep the source and the information confidential, then how
> does it benefit anyone? Keeping both confidential will also mean that
> you cannot act on it--because acting on it will ensure that 'the dark
> forces' will know you have the information and then trace your
> source.
> Yes, I would consider breaking trust--of disclosing the source--as
> unacceptable. But whistleblowers give information so that it is put
> in the public domain and someone would act on it. So I really don't
> see the need for the closed cabal that has privileged information.
> > Regards,
> If I have misunderstood your position, and the written language is a
> limiting factor, I am willing to have a discussion with you when I
> come to Delhi next (or when you come to Bangalore) .... if it will be
> interesting (though non-productive) for you. :-))
> Do let me know if you are open to having such a discussion. If you
> prefer, we could even call over some fosscomm friends so that we
> evolve this bottom up, and then continue this discussion on list.

Raj Mathur                raju at kandalaya.org      http://kandalaya.org/
       GPG: 78D4 FC67 367F 40E2 0DD5  0FEF C968 D0EF CC68 D17F
PsyTrance & Chill: http://schizoid.in/   ||   It is the mind that moves

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