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Tuesday, 03 July 2018 11:14

Red Hat employees must ask firm to cancel NSA contracts


Open source company Red Hat crossed the US$2 billion mark in annual revenue some time ago and indications are that the 24-year-old firm will soon cross the next revenue milestone – US$3 billion. There is, thus, no reason for the company to continue to do deals with the NSA, given that the philosophy it advocates in public stands in marked contrast to what the NSA does.

In 2015, it was reported that the NSA runs its XKEYSCORE program — an application that The Intercept, the website run by journalist Glenn Greenwald, describes as NSA's Google for private communications — for the most part on Red Hat Linux servers.

Employees of other technology companies like Microsoft, Amazon and Google have protested when their respective employers indulge in activities that are unethical. Microsoft employees recently protested against their employer's working with Immigration and Customs Enforcement in the wake of the agency's separation of migrant children from their parents at the Mexico-US border.

Workers at Amazon wrote to chief executive Jeff Bezos, telling him not to sell Rekognition facial recognition software to law enforcement agencies and to cancel the contract for hosting data-mining company Palantir on its cloud.

And Google employees protested their employer's involvement in a US Defence Department programme that uses artificial intelligence to interpret video images and assist in targeting enemies in drone strikes.

So why are Red Hat employees silent about their company's role in aiding the NSA to conduct surveillance on a sizeable proportion of the human race? After the disclosures by ex-NSA contractor Edward Snowden, there is no lack of documentation about the ubiquitous nature of the snooping that goes on.

Given its inclination to turn a blind eye and pocket the NSA's cash, Red Hat went missing when 34 tech companies led by Microsoft — yes, that Microsoftsigned a pledge that they would refuse to join cyber attacks by nation-states against innocent citizens and businesses no matter where they are located.

Of course, there were others missing too – Google, Amazon and Apple did not put their names to the pledge, either.

But Red Hat claims to be different from companies that sell proprietary software. It bleats about its opennness whenever given the chance. During its annual summit, its Twitter feed is a deluge of self-righteousness.

Why, its chief executive Jim Whitehurst, one of the great bloviators of all time, has even written a book about the company titled The Open Organisation!

But the company will not tell the world why it continues to do business with the NSA. Nor will it say whether it supports blanket surveillance, which incidentally has been shown time and again to have absolutely no value when it comes to detecting potential terrorists or their plans.

Red Hat earns a tidy sum for every licence it sells to the NSA. The love of money, it has been said by someone somewhere — pardon me, my memory is not the best — is the root of all evil.

Sometimes being a company with a two-billion-plus dollars in turnover can result in the ranks becoming a little tone-deaf. That is what seems to have happened at Red Hat. Money, no matter how tainted the source, has become the only thing that matters.


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Sam Varghese

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Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.



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