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An Open Letter to Ministry of Communications and Information Technology India
It has been 70 years since we gained independence from the British empire. We gained independence in administration and we now have the freedom to make choices as a nation. Our freedom fighters knew that the British rule was against our interests, that they will continue to exploit our nation as long as we are dependent on their administration. We fought with our own policies of non-violence and finally we won. Now we are the fastest growing economy in the world!
But years later, when we look back at those times of our fight for freedom, isn't it obvious that we have forgotten a great lesson that was already known to us? The lesson being "dependence can lead to exploitation".
When it comes to the Information Technology sector we could see that it's a wholly' different scenario. We live in a world where everyone is connected, hardwired to internet around the clock where cyber attacks are the new form or warfare. A good example is the Stuxnet, a joint U.S.-Israel project, known for reportedly destroying roughly a fifth of Iran's nuclear centrifuges by causing them to spin out of control. This warfare is so powerful that it can turn a country's economy upside down overnight, without even leaving a trail! We saw cyber attacks like WannaCry and Petya ransomwares affecting millions of computers worldwide. We saw that such attacks can even affect the working of governments and banks. And the main thing is, this war doesn't need countries, even a handful of people in a tiny room can unleash such massive attacks. In case of government institutions, losing sensitive administration data is way more disastrous such that it can be used against that nation by their enemy countries or terrorist groups. It may be pointed out that such security threats are largely confined to Microsoft products. While WannaCry affected so many computers in India, it didn't affect any computer used in the 2000+ schools in Kerala. They were safe because they were running the Free Operating System, GNU/Linux. The same was the case with the computers of our Life Insureance Corporation, which also runs Free Software.
It's a well-known fact that "data is the new oil!". Almost all developed countries as well as many developing countries around the world are now spending billions in the field of data mining in order to gain more power and hence more strategic control over the rest of the world. User data is used for user profiling. The results of this mass cyber profiling can range from simply advertising a cheese burger to mass-manipulation for influencing a key election. The demand for transparency in democracy is to prevent rigging elections directly, but elections still can be rigged indirectly by manipulating voters who are profiled and targeted advertisements are placed strategically. This is just one example of how important data really is. In the not so distant future the news we see will be based on our cyber profile, we will see the world as how some coporates think how we want it to be instead of how it actually is, which will keep our political views dormant for sure. In case of manipulated news, we will be surrounded by information that some other agency wants us to see. In other words, we might see more news about dogs surfing competition than the news of children next to us dying out of starvation and preventable diseases.
When a program loads and runs in a computer and the user doesn't exactly know what all this program will actually do in background, it's a security risk. This is where the dependency on proprietary software vendors becomes an issue, they don't provide us enough freedom on the software we buy, they don't allow us to check what code they run behind nor can we know what they do with our data. These programs can steal our sensitive data or they can change or corrupt them altogether. This doesn't end here, each year we spend billions of our taxpayer money to buy software licenses and because these proprietary vendors don't give us the freedom to distribute the software, we have no choice but to buy software licenses for each installation and finally we end up begging them to provide discounts.
Another problem is that proprietary software that is widely used, including Microsoft Word, Excel, etc. save files in their own secret formats which cannot be cleanly opened by other software. This means that documents created using them are locked to that company's products and we risk losing access to those documents if and when the company stops supporting the software as companies do periodically. So, we need software that will save documents in open formats that can be read using any software any time and don't depend exclusively on a particular company.
We need softwares that provide us the freedom to use them as we want, study them as we want, change them as we want and let us distribute them as we want, we need to end making dangerous sacrifices, being depended on companies that don't let us study their software, we must make sure that our nation's security is not sold to a few companies that sell unreliable products. We still have a long way to lead the technological competition between countries, to go ahead we need to get rid of the dependency on proprietary softwares. We are already late, but it's better to be late than never. So on this occasion of our 70th independence day, let's switch to the path of complete independence in the Information Technology sector, let's switch to the path of Freedom and Security, let's switch to the path of Free (as in freedom) Software!
Link to avaaz.org petition with the same content: https://secure.avaaz.org/en/petition/Ministry_of_Communications_and_Information_Technology_India_Protect_nation_from_cyber_security_threats_by_using_Free_Sof/