[Help wanted] FOSS United Public Policy Charter V0

FOSS United has been active in the Indian Public Policy space for a few years now. Apart from our stance on Software Patents (see endsoftwarepatents.in), members of the FOSS United Community have highlighted the fact that our stance on Indian Public Policy overall isn’t clear. Creating a FOSS United Public Policy Charter and publicly communicating it should bring transparency into why the Organization is doing what it is doing. It might also enable us to find more volunteers to help with the Policy efforts.

@Santhosh_Jose recently communicated interest in volunteering on the Policy side of things at FOSS United (Introduce yourself - $whoami - #126 by Santhosh_Jose and FOSS United 2.0 : The Community, the Organization, and the next two years - #3 by Santhosh_Jose) and is currently working on creating a Version 0 of the FOSS United Public Policy Charter.

This Topic is meant to

  • seek out interest in helping us draft the Public Policy Charter
  • get feedback from the Community on what fundamental Public Policy goals FOSS United should work towards
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Interesting! I want to contribute on Policy aspects!

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Thanks, @rahulporuri for starting this discussion.

Hello everyone - I am attaching an initial working draft of the charter for the Public Policy initiatives. This is to give everyone an idea of what the structure of the charter would look like.

One section that everyone can start contributing to is the Objectives section. To get this rolling, we’ve listed out 10 objectives. You could review this list of objectives and share your feedback as comments in this thread.

Here are two simple questions to help you structure your responses if you’re recommending changes.

  1. Are there things in the current list that you disagree with? Dissent is welcome. Just call out the specific item and share the reason as to why that should not be included as an objective.

  2. Are there important things in the realm of public policy in this space that are missing from the current list? Great! Just describe the objective that you would like to see included. Examples and/or reasoning as to why it should be included would also help.

Even if you don’t have any suggestions in the form of changes, but have read the charter, you could still give your overall feedback on the current draft of the charter.

FOSS United Public Policy Charter V0.pdf (64.6 KB)

Objectives

Listed below are the specific goals that the initiative aims to achieve. Every strategy that is developed and every activity that is performed as part of this initiative should help to achieve at least of these objectives.

  1. To communicate established definitions of Free and Open Source Software, FOSS, Open Source, and other terminologies to the General Public and to correct misuses of the terminologies.
  2. Educate and inform both policy makers and the community regarding the benefits of FOSSin technology policies. It is important to engage communities as they have the power to influence policy makers. Work for the policy makers becomes easier if the community is already aligned.
  3. Promote digital autonomy and technical sovereignty through FOSS – access to FOSS is difficult to restrict, FOSS usage reduces dependency on external vendors or proprietary technologies, FOSS is resistant to international trade conflicts
  4. Advocate for the development of common open standards that allows better inter-operability between entities (both public and private) and encourage data sharing.
  5. Increased allocation of public grants for FOSS projects.
  6. Enable the establishment of Open-Source Program Offices (OPSOs) at both the Union and State governments.
  7. Incorporate education in FOSS philosophy and FOSS technologies into the STEM curriculum in Universities.
  8. Increase public awareness and participation in in technology policy-making.
  9. Prevent roadblocks in the creation and adoption of FOSS in India, which includes ending Software Patents
  10. Advocate for the replacement of traditional metrics of innovation and progress, like the “Number of Patents”, with metrics that take into account FOSS.
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One key reason why I believe that the governments have a role in FOSS is the Tragedy of Commons. There are many crucial FOSS projects upon which giant architectures are built and it’s not wise to leave these FOSS projects purely to volunteers and free-market interests. Any vulnerability in such FOSS project would creep in to our DPIs

I think identification of such projects can be part of the Objectives (could fit in Objective 5 - public grants for maintenance of such projects)

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As part of Objective 2 or 8, there should be a public resource documenting the best practices (nationally and internationally) on how governments are using/promoting FOSS.

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Quick comment: Some of the points seem vague and repetitive. Should more more concise.

My broad view, which I have stated elsewhere are:

  1. Incentives: Govt should not waste money on funding FOSS, creating more bureaucracy like Open Source Program Offices etc. I don’t think people in government understand FOSS or have the right kind of people to drive this. Example BOSS Linux or BharOS. Government departments who have the right mindset should be funding it. Can’t think of a single example world-wide where governments have successfully incubated or supported FOSS projects (Points 2, 5, 6)
  2. Decentralisation: The “F” in FOSS is for “freedom”. Creating massively centralised services by governments takes away our freedom and gives arbitrary powers to bureaucrats and politicians. A “superstate” built on technology (and maybe badly implemented AI) can hand over too much power to governments. If we truly align on FOSS philosophy, we should strongly oppose centralisation in digital services offered by governments. All digital services should be offered by the departments and local governments.
  3. Grassroots: All our policy work should be directed towards creating awareness for “digital rights and freedoms” among the community.

My 2p :sweat_smile:

edit: My broader question is how are we even going to agree on a charter without some governance mechanism in place? :smile: @rahulporuri

Hi @Krishna - very valid point regarding many giant architectures being built on FOSS projects. When you say it’s not wise to leave these FOSS projects to volunteers and free market interests, could you elaborate on what the alternative would be? Are you perhaps suggesting that government should be involved in these projects? If yes, in what capacity do you envision that happening?

Hi @rushabh - Appreciate you taking the time out to share detailed comments.

Govt should not waste money on funding FOSS

Regarding incentives, i agree with you. In the Indian context, this might not be the most pressing area that public funds should be directed to. Especially when the very nature of FOSS enables enthusiasts to contribute for free.

Can’t think of a single example world-wide where governments have successfully incubated or supported FOSS projects

That being said, when you look outside of India, there are plenty of FOSS projects that have successfully received government backing, especially in Europe region. Recently, I worked with someone in Germany to submit a proposal for an NGI project - the funding for which comes from the European Commission. But yes, completely agree that this is not the best time in India’s history for the government to look at financially supporting FOSS projects.

If we truly align on FOSS philosophy, we should strongly oppose centralisation in digital services offered by governments.

Regarding decentralisation - Could you give some examples of the kinds of digital services you are referring to?

Not just governments per se. But like in the Objective 5 where you mentioned public grants for FOSS projects, I feel there has to be some incentives in place for maintenance of such critical FOSS projects. Now the government can give those grants since they are using these projects in their grand projects. But any other philanthropic effort would also do.

But identification of such critical projects is something the community can do.

Hi @rushabh , I just want to know your thoughts on Kerala Government’s ICFOSS

Felt other states can do something similar. But I have only done cursory reading on this.

Not sure. Has ICFOSS come out with some ground breaking FOSS technology?

Most of these things boil down to your opinion. If you are of a more libertarian bent, you don’t want the government to invest in things that society can easily provide for. Software companies in India (not “startups”) make thousands of crores in profits and they should be funding FOSS if anything. Bigger governments means more jobs for bureaucrats, whose mission then becomes to protect the bureaucracy.

Check this thread: RFC: Community positions on digital services / DPGs? run by governments

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Hi all, adding a few thoughts here that are partly informed from discussions with people in this group.

  • I agree that building an understanding of FOSS and FOSS culture at grassroots level including should be a focus. STEM curriculum and getting private companies to acknowledge FOSS use could be a good place to start.
  • While the Indian state might not be well suited for building technology or running open source program offices with big mandates, it is still a significant purchaser of technology. Public money, public code, can be a guiding principle in these purchases. Techno-strategic autonomy and national security considerations also necessitate this.
  • I agree that DPI should be open source as it promotes transparency and accountability, but I wonder if that boat has sailed. There are other considerations which create push back - lack of understanding of open source in government and incentives of governments/bureaucrats don’t align well with FOSS way of working. There are also bilateral and multilateral technology sharing agreements that the government is entering to share DPI stacks.
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Hi all,
Was happy to see the thread on policy here. Wold love to participate in the policy discussions. Sharing point by point feedback here:

  • To communicate established definitions of Free and Open Source Software, FOSS, Open Source, and other terminologies to the General Public and to correct misuses of the terminologies.
    A great first goal.

  • Educate and inform both policy makers and the community regarding the benefits of FOSSin technology policies. It is important to engage communities as they have the power to influence policy makers. Work for the policy makers becomes easier if the community is already aligned.
    I can’t make sense of the first sentence. Is the intended meaning: explain the benefit of FOSS to communities so that there are specific policies for FOSS? Or that emerging tech policy is evaluated against its impact on FOSS? This one appears vague to me- engage policy makers to what end or goals specific to promotion of FOSS?

  • Promote digital autonomy and technical sovereignty through FOSS – access to FOSS is difficult to restrict, FOSS usage reduces dependency on external vendors or proprietary technologies, FOSS is resistant to international trade conflicts
    This is a good one but wondering if this is a goal or a tactic- this sounds like a benefit of FOSS that needs to evangelized to policy makers. I agree that running a ‘FOSS for strategic independence’ could be an interesting program but not sure if this is a good policy goal.

  • Advocate for the development of common open standards that allows better inter-operability between entities (both public and private) and encourage data sharing.
    Great one.

  • Increased allocation of public grants for FOSS projects.
    Also interesting but given that public funding of research in India is abysmal and asking for public funding for FOSS seems like a long shot, the more strategic position might be “research and technology developed through public funding should be released under an open source or open data license.” This could also be a corrective to the push by academic institutions towards patents of R&D.

  • Enable the establishment of Open-Source Program Offices (OPSOs) at both the Union and State governments.
    No strong opinions about this one but wouldn’t put this high on priority.

  • Incorporate education in FOSS philosophy and FOSS technologies into the STEM curriculum in Universities.
    +1

  • Increase public awareness and participation in in technology policy-making.
    There are other programs and avenues for this. What would FOSS United’s specific angle to this be?

  • Prevent roadblocks in the creation and adoption of FOSS in India, which includes ending Software Patents
    great one

  • Advocate for the replacement of traditional metrics of innovation and progress, like the “Number of Patents”, with metrics that take into account FOSS.
    Do we have metrics that take into account impact of FOSS on innovation and progress? :slight_smile:
    I think this is a BIG research gap- how do you measure the short-term and long-term impact of FOSS on social and economic processes? Promoting research on this topic specific to India would indeed be a good goal. For the most part we are arguing in absence of evidence, while there is tons of it around patents, IPR, GDP etc.

Other Points

  • Would we want to include something on open hardware as well? There are overlapping concerns but some distinct ones as well.
  • Would suggest/prefer that the language be specific to FOSS which is well defined and that we don’t bring in terms like DPI/DPG. That is bound to pull us into definition rabbit holes that don’t seem productive at this stage.
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Thanks @rushabh for sharing the previous discussion. When you say digital services - are you considering regular government services that can be accessed digitally or offerings that exist purely in the digital space?

For instance, if I’m looking to register a company, I can go through the whole process digitally. Would that be a digital service? Or are you restricting the definition to things like DigiLocker for instance - which is a purely digital offering - as in it’s not a digital channel of an existing government service or offering?

I guess the item that’s throwing me off a bit is the high-level alternative that you have proposed in this thread

Isn’t this already the case? Aren’t digital services usually offered by the respective departments?

I guess if by digital services you are referring to purely digital offerings, then I can see that most of them are developed and managed by MeITY (except for some of the bigger projects like UID, managed by UIDAI, and UPI, managed by NPCI). Whereas the government services that are offered digitally are managed by the respective departments.

Hi @Bharath_Reddy - thanks for sharing the below resource.

The opening statement on the website is a simple and powerful idea.

Why is software created using taxpayers’ money not released as Free Software?

We also have precedents in India for this - example, making the source code for Aarogya Setu open.
Aarogya Setu - Source Code

So it shouldn’t be too weird or foreign an idea for the government to wrap its head around.

Hi @Tarunima this is amazing! Thanks for taking the time out for the detailed feedback.

This definitely needs some rewording/clarification. The basic idea here is that, while the members of this community are very well aware of the merits, benefits and the importance of FOSS; when compared to the larger population, we are a small bubble. A lot of work needs to be done to increase awareness of the idea of FOSS with the general public and groups such as these are best placed to do this.

That’s a very good alternate position - along the lines of public money, public code concept that @Bharath_Reddy shared above.

What’s being observed is that, despite a large and growing tech community, there is still a lack of awareness in terms of policies being made that directly affect the community. A group like FOSS United can help disseminate information, help with translating/breaking it down into language that’s easily understood, help with folks in responding to proposals etc. For items like this, every little bit can help move the needle.

I’m not entirely sure, but coming up with a list of such metrics could be one of the strategies that we can look at. This would also help with the goal of educating the public about FOSS.