If an open source software package steals your passwords, or hogs your bandwidth or has security leaks this will be discovered rapidly. The underlying program code is available for any interested person to scrutinise and confidence is established.
You can read more about the philosophy behind open source software and the concept of software freedom in a previous article, “Software Freedom Day and the open source way” to commemorate Software Freedom Day on September 15th last year.
One argument I raised is that in today’s modern wired world software can be found all around us. Modern democracies are experimenting with electronic voting and these processes can engender doubt and suspicion if they are not handled properly.
A traditional paper and pencil voting system can have transparency. Voters see their name marked off the electoral role, they mark their ballot and they deposit it in a locked box. Later, scrutineers from differing political parties are able to view the ballot box being opened and the ballots counted. The process can be trusted because it offers many checks and balances.
Electronic voting systems are not necessarily so. With automation coming in, out goes the array of people watching people. Yet, if the voting system cannot be trusted then the results cannot be trusted.
A closed, proprietary electronic voting system strikes at the essence of democracy.
You might think that’s dramatic, but it is true: If the process cannot be independently verified to be free from error and bias then the results cannot be free from suspicion or rumour.
All this said, after hearing the argument repeated yet again at various presentations on Linux and open source matters I began tiring of it. I considered it hackneyed and clichÃ©d, and mused it was time to come up with something new.
No more: an open source Python program had revealed Diebold counting software has miscounted ballots in Humboldt County. Worse, Diebold had not disclosed this bug was known for four years.
The argument is not merely rhetoric. A faulty proprietary electronic voting system has proven the merit and strength of the argument.
Here’s what happened.