By Brandon Ching
On July 8th, 2008
What follows is the concluding chapter of my Master’s thesis written a little over two years ago. If you are interested in reading the rest, check it out here. I just thought I would post it to see some of your thoughts on the idea of open-source software as a platform for government service delivery.
I am about half way through Lawrence Lessig’s book Code 2.0 and it has brought back fond memories of my days writing on e-government and open-source software. If you read only one book about the Internet, please make it The Future of Ideas, also by Lessig. This book was the foundation for my thesis and is, in my opinion, one the most influential books on the Internet and information freedom.
E-government is revolutionizing the business of government. It has the potential to single handedly bring citizens closer to their governments in a time when government mistrust and mismanagement has run rampant. By allowing citizens the opportunity to gather information, conduct online transactions, and more easily interact with their government, the e-government phenomena has begun to cement itself into the fabric of American culture.
We still have a ways to go. Not every government has the resources to implement such innovative services, just as not every citizen has the resources to access those services. The digital divide is large and we as a nation must resolve to bring the benefits of Internet and computer technology to those who otherwise would not have such opportunities. In a strange way, development of e-government services can help. By choosing effective and efficient technological platforms described in this thesis, governments can cut costs and divert those savings to public technological welfare.
A large part of this cost savings can be had with the adoption of open-source software in government. While open-source adoption is slowly gaining ground in public agencies, truth of knowledge must be spread regarding the values of open-source alternatives. Capitalism has no place in public government business. The profit motive of corporate America is degenerative to the democratic principals on which this nation was founded. Government has become a puppet of corporations who foster greed and inseminate corruption in our public institutions. Gone are the days of true public service where men and women sacrificed for the public good.
Fortunately, there exists an alternative to the moral stagnation of our political officials; the hacker philosophy, as symbolized in the open-source software movement. This is not to say that open-source software will cure our political misfortunes, far from it. However, I do see it as a start to changing the mindset of the American people into that of a bygone era when greed was not motivation and sacrifice and humanity were in abundance.
The open-source philosophy teaches that when a problem arises, those with the ability to help should help, with no other motivation than the satisfaction of helping.
Attributed to the world of technology, this philosophy has enabled what are now the Internet and the World Wide Web. Without those pioneering free spirited individuals of the nineteen sixties and early nineteen seventies, who choose to give away their creations instead of profiting from them, there would be no Internet as it exists today. This fact often escapes Capitalist minded individuals who attempt to treat digital and intellectual property as if they were real world rivalrous resources.
Seeking to profit from the expected use of a given technology based on the generosity of previous innovators, these digital robber barons are stifling innovation for future generations. In an attempt to maintain the status quo and thus their efficacious positions, these individuals and corporations are unrightfully attempting to control the Internet: incipiently conceived as a free and uncontrolled entity. This blatant protraction of control and manipulation has the potential to collapse the independent pillars of the Internet thus destroying the most effectual communication and social medium in history.
Thankfully, there exist individuals who are poised and ready to fight such methods of control and degradation. Individuals like Richard Stallman and the Free Software Foundation, along with millions of independent programmers and businesses are silently contributing to the open-standards and open-source model. Developments like the Linux operating system are gaining ground not through monetary assertion, but rather through proven results and first hand realization of their superior performance, security, and efficiency.
It is thanks to these open-source programs that a low cost yet highly effective option for e-government services exists. With continually shrinking budgets and citizens not willing to pay for ineffective government services, many reformers are turning to open-source software. A worldwide support community, open-standards base, and limitless licensing options are just some of the benefits of adopting open-source alternatives for e-government services.
The founders of our nation believed in the freedom of information and the correctness of the knowledge to which that information begets. Proprietary software models capitalize on the secrecy of information. There exists no motivation to share information because proprietary software is driven by profit not freedom. The open-source model promotes just the opposite; transparency of information. With open code and open standards, there is no place for secrets; trust and freedom of information prevail. That is why the open-source software model is the best model for government IT systems.