The recent curbs on social networking websites in India demonstrate the unpredictability of the legal environment, both for businesses and the citizens. Whether its the Government of India’s (GoI) insistence on getting access to corporate emails and text messages sent via BlackBerry devices, or changing stances on “pre-screening” user generated content, the authorities seem to be doing a tap dance around legal issues. The implementation of rules seems surreptitious as they are bent conveniently in the name of “security”.
In his keynote from the 28th Chaos Communication Congress last week, Cory Doctorow outlines the primary threat to software freedom in the 21st century: that as our lives become more dependent upon general-purpose computers, the attempts of industry and government to control computing will fundamentally endanger our personal liberty. Using the now-familiar history of digital rights management—its rise, its failure, and legislative efforts to enforce it—Cory illustrates how those threatened by technology will inevitably seek to cripple it. But the so-called copyright wars waged by content owners, he says, were only “a skirmish.”
Earlier this week, the Office of Foreign Assets Control announced the relaxation of rules prohibiting export of software to Iran and Sudan. The new exemptions build on a recent easing of some rules governing exporting telecommunications technology to Cuba. These moves are surely an attempt to capitalize on the Iranian election demonstrations last summer that some called the “Twitter Revolution”. They are also a sign that the Obama Administration is carrying out its plans to make internet freedom a pillar of US diplomacy.
I hope the revised OFAC rules are the beginning of a broad and nuanced re-examination of US technology export policy. They are certainly good news for Free Software developers who are currently prohibited from distributing their software in embargoed countries.