Monday, August 25, 2008

ZenTiger Green Utopia a Virtual Reality

I see in the paper the Greens have released their IT Policy and have a few simple demands to achieve digital utopia.

Some eyebrow raising policies that leap out at me on my first scan of their document:

1. Ban software patents
2. Require the government use free and Open Source software
3. Require the government to favour locally produced software
4. Set up free (tax payer funded) municipally owned wireless networks
5. Force internet providers to supply redundant access
6. Remove any freedom of an ISP to choose what information it carries.
7. Duplicate all public information held by the government in Te Reo Maori
8. Require government to provide more free (tax payer funded) or low cost public information online.
9. Introduce the concept of "E-waste" and promise to research then tax and legislate E-Waste out of existence.
10. Introduce public and democratic scrutiny of any proprietary system responsible for human life or gathering votes.
11. Potentially give tax breaks on software development as it is environmentally friendly.
12. Exclude any American company from supplying management or data storage services to government departments which store information on its citizens.

Item 6 is interesting: The way I read it, to ensure freedom they feel they need to force carriers to carry anything "legal". Thus an ISP who sets up a service that blocks porn sites could be in contravention of the Greens legislation. A customer who likes the price could still complain that the ISP is filtering porn material he really feels a right to view. Irrespective of other customers signing up to get an ISP 'safe' for their children. It becomes an electronic Queen Street Boobs on Bikes.

The approach to ban American companies from providing services to some government departments is equally hysterical. They specifically cite America as the problem due to America's security laws. That was separate to the obvious anti-Microsoft bashing in their policy document.

The Greens also want government to downgrade buying criteria based on suitability for purpose. Rather than buying software according to how good it does the job, a lot more attention should go on how free or open sourced it is. They also want to ban software patents. Banning software patents is an interesting discussion in itself, but I find most people confuse the three topics (free software, open source software, patent protection) and we need to be careful to discuss each as distinct topics.

If you think this post is too short, take it as version 1, and you'll have to wait for the upgrade. If you want to contribute to the next release, then add some comments. We'll declare this post open source and set up a community of bloggers to get this out there for further development.

Related Link: Green Policy - Information Technology

Related Link: Ban Software Patents and Ban Microsoft

12 comment(s):

Anonymous said...

What exactly is 'E-Waste' Zen? I'm sure many of us not up with IT wonder...

ZenTiger said...

Hi Ruth. The Greens define E-Waste as hazardous materials used in computer related hardware products.

They are talking about the disposal of old computer equipment, motherboards, printers, laptop batteries, photocopiers, cable and perhaps even toner waste and computer packaging.

Such products have a variety of toxic chemicals and elements such as mercury and lead. They also could have a lot of valuable recyclable material (gold, steel, copper)

I'm also thinking that the Greens could move on to E-Waste including excessive printing and lack of recycling.

Oswald Bastable said...

Surrender to the borg collective!

Forensic morsels said...

Commitment to an e-waste policy - great, something needs to be done about this rather than shipping it overseas or letting it slowly poison the land in landfills, plus there's value in it

Legislating against software patents - this really needs to be done, we seem to have them in NZ but its never been tested in a court and the effect of software patents is crushing to the entire tech industry not just free/open source software.

Open source adoption - not a bad idea, free provision of software of an often equally satisfactory quality, support still necessary but more of a choice whether this comes from a multinational (red hat, novell etc.) or a competitive and dynamic local company since its free to breakdown and learn the software in depth, potential government savings and local market benefits through competition what's wrong with that

not so sure about municipal wifi but certainly something to look into

supply of government info - all good for open government and freedom of information I'd say

scrubone said...

I don't see everything in my quick scan, but I do see some very naive stuff, incredibly naive.

They want to separate IT workers from their work and monitor their health?!?

Very nanny state. People will go to the doctor when they want to, and they'll work as hard as the want to.

ZenTiger said...

Hi Fergus. Reviewing recycling capability doesn't hurt, regardless of what the material is or where it comes from. However, focusing on "E-Waste" conjures up an image of a bloke sitting at a gate at a dump.

"I have this mercury to dump"

"Does it come from a computer?"


"Just throw it in the landfill then. We only have E-Waste on the list of things we do something about..."

Regarding banning Patents: I agree this is one area to look at. However, NZ taking a lone stand of banning them may backfire. I do agree that patents on ideas that rely on pure math, or such generic algorithms and functions that many people will independently come up with the same things is something that should not be patentable. This is different from copyright. I'd like to commit a full post to this at some stage to explore further.

As for open source, you make the point in your closing line: benefits through competition what's wrong with that

We don't need to mandate open source if the benefits are there through natural competition. Legislating the use of open source to the point we would disregard suitability of commercial software is not competition. It's meddling, and the government is meddling enough already.

I notice you deliberately avoided some of the more negative ideas. Silence is the better part of discretion, eh what?

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the explanation Zen - I indeed have images of some old guy sitting at the gate of the tip.

nyokodo said...

Restricting Government to FOSS, open formats and in some cases open hardware platforms is a great idea. In fact it's vital for two reasons, firstly it enables transparency of process for things like the inevitable digital voting software/hardware of the future. A major problem with Diebold voting machines in the USA which are notoriously easy to hack with much evidence that such hacking has liberally gone on already, but no one can do anything about it.

Secondly it ensures that the data will be readable in the future instead of being locked in some format from a vendor who went out of business 30 years ago and where all the IP is passed on. This format hell is currently tormenting the US Central Archive.

I was under the impression that Software Patents were already effectively illegal in NZ. Many countries still treat algorithms like mathematical equations and bar patents, which I think is the correct way to treat them.

As for the socialist stifling of the rights of the ISPs to use their own property as they wish (sans fraud), and instituting further "tragedy of the commons" tax payer bludgeoned open networks, I utterly reject those measures as unethical and ineffectual. The requirement for scrutiny of systems "responsible for human life" might pose a problem for proprietary medical equipment and software! They might be legislating away whats left of our hospital system.

I support the tax breaks for software! Mainly because I support all tax breaks for everything, in fact I support total income tax breaks ;).

The ban on American storage is a privacy issue since the American Government reserves the right to search any computing equipment on their soil. Although they probably also reserve the right to pretty much bug and search all things foreign too it just makes it easier if the servers are in the States.

scrubone said...

I believe the move to abolish software patents isn't as bad as it looks - I read a respected computer mag some time ago who suggested this very idea.

That was long before Amazon patented the "idea" of a once click checkout! There's some total bollocks that have been patented, and it's pretty poor that they've been let through.

I think they're against packet shaping which would be a good thing - "Lines companies that carry Internet signals and ISPs that deliver them to households, must not play favourites with users accessing their lines and they should remain common carriers."

Hopefully that means they don't want telecom to charge more for Skype packets, since they're used to circumvent long distance phone calls.

ZenTiger said...

Interesting comments.

The patents thing is definitely worth a post I think. There have indeed been a large number of ridiculous attempts to patent the most obvious of ideas. The Amazon one click being a notorious example and the concept of hyper-linking another.

Regarding the anti-Americanism - I thought the Green policy was more expansive than where the item was stored, and my approach to solve this problem would be different and avoid the anti-Americanism, especially as it is a "point solution" rather than a logical approach to a broader issue. another post I guess. I'm just so strapped for time this week...

Forensic morsels said...

@ zentiger
I just got bored I'm afraid Zentiger, nothing so sinister as you suggested. And the good in the measures I talked about might be enough to overcome my ambivalency or negativity about the others, this is party politics after all.

Benefits through competition: all support workers for windows products are in some way ultimately dependant on Microsoft issued material rather than source code and freely available documentation, open source makes this info freely available, probably more efficient to access and thus promotes competition among open source support providers and against windows support providers and ultimately Microsoft.

Picking on the E-waste policy the way you do is a little incomplete, the greens have a comprehensive set of principles to deal with almost all kinds of waste, its just that you're unlikely to find hazardous materials guidelines or environmental waste from fishing etc in an IT policy document.

If the part about ISP restriction is one against traffic shaping / tiering of the internet (ie contra net neutrality) then I support it.

On reflection I think muni wifi is probably better replaced by national fiber optics or increased undersea cable provision.


Open formats are a must, totally agree. Hopefully the latest Copyright Act amendment will counter the problems of DRM for archivists which is a step in the right direction and something can be done for more general forms of media.

Software patents have been awarded at the level of the Patents Office though they can be challenged in the High Court etc on up to the Supreme Court. We have Patent Office cases saying it can be patented but no High Court authority, a challenge would be worthwhile mounting but the Patents Act is a little tricky for such things. Not sure if banning them would violate TRIPS, don't think so.

MathewK said...

Green vermin as so predictable, they always have to angle an anti-american bit in there somewhere eh. Couldn't find anything bad from China i see. Not even after they were cyber-hacking NZ.

I guess it must be all those millions the Communists killed that the Greens are so grateful for.

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