Thursday, 31 March 2016 14:08

With US$2b revenue, why does Red Hat need the NSA's money?


Last week, Red Hat became the first open source company to cross the US$2 billion mark in annual revenue.

Presumably, this means that the company will no longer have to depend on clients like the NSA for income.

Last year, it was reported that XKEYSCORE — an application that the Intercept, the website run by journalist Glenn Greenwald, describes as NSA's Google for private communications — was being run for the most part on Red Hat Linux servers.

At the time, Red Hat had crossed the billion-dollar revenue mark. But the company could not summon up anyone to talk intelligently about why it was selling, and providing support, to an organisation that is surreptitiously conducting mass surveillance of the American population and a goodly portion of the rest of the world too.

Having crossed the next billion, is Red Hat in a position to hire some PR droids who can respond to a query as to why it chooses to assist the NSA?

After all, Red Hat is the same company that claims to be The Open Organisation; not long ago its chief executive Jim Whitehurst published a book with this very name, saying that it was all about the organisation he heads.

Or are there limits to openness at Red Hat?

If the NSA were running its operations on any other Linux distribution — or even the Red Hat clones CentOS or Scientific Linux — one would have no objection. Linux can be downloaded and run by world+dog – the licence terms are such.

But in this case, Red Hat is receiving a goodly sum to assist the NSA in activities that infringe on people's privacy. There is no government order on such surveillance, and even if there was it would not extend to other countries. The NSA spies on anyone and everyone and Red Hat supports it in these activities.

And were it not for the intrepid Edward Snowden, we would not even know of this mass surveillance.

The amazing thing is that a company dealing in open source helps to violate people's privacy while a proprietary software company, Apple, takes on even the FBI to defend its customers' privacy!

Nobody is asking any company, least of all Red Hat, to surrender income that is kosher. But surely there are limits to the places from where one can earn income?

Many organisations are disinvesting from companies that add substantially to the world's output of greenhouse gases. What about people's human rights and their right to privacy? Should one also take a look at disinvesting from companies that assist in violating privacy?

American journalists are always slamming China for this, that and the other, but they turn a blind eye to what happens inside the borders of their own country. There are many so-called journalists who write about Red Hat but will they ever dare to raise a critical voice?

Increasing revenue also seems to buy an increasing amount of silence.

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Sam Varghese

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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