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Tuesday, 05 July 2016 11:46

Red Hat is open – to doing business with the NSA


Red Hat's annual summit held last week was a smörgåsbord of events that illustrate what the company styles as its philosophy of openness. In the rush to publicise this trait, the company forgot that it is aiding the NSA, the biggest spy outfit in the world, to snoop on others.

There is no way anyone would define that role as contributing to openness. It could, of course, open up the possibility that innocent people could be arrested for very trivial things.

In 2015, it was reported that XKEYSCORE — an application that the Intercept describes as the NSA's Google for private communications — was being run for the most part on Red Hat Linux servers.

But when one asks Red Hat about this, one realises pretty soon that there are limits to the company's definition of openness.

To believe the excuse offered — that a company which earns in excess of US$2 billion in revenue cannot find a spokesman to comment — one has to be very, very naive.

Red Hat was all over the word "open" last week, even cynically exploiting brain cancer patients by pointing to two people who had shared data about themselves and used their plight to begin a movement.

Exactly what this has to do with the selling of software is not clear.

But many companies, some of which can only be described as charlatans, have used the same ruse. Some use the term "open core" to sell proprietary software by wrapping it around some nominally open source code.

The word "open" is used as a marketing tool more often than not by companies who will do anything to make a buck.

However, the true test of any company's commitment to an open philosophy comes when it has to deal with tricky issues, things that paint it in a light that is not flattering.

Red Hat fails on this score; it is helping the NSA to spy on the entire US population and also a goodly portion of the remainder of the human race.

Given the licence under which the Linux kernel is released, nobody could object if the NSA used a GNU/Linux distribution that was available for free download – as many are.

But when it comes to a company that earns every penny from free and open source software providing support and updates for what is clearly an unethical activity, one has to draw the line.

The very fact that Red Hat refuses to say anything about its NSA contracts when asked, is an indication that the company is uncomfortable about it.

Nobody is asking Red Hat to be a paragon of virtue; that would be impossible if one wishes to do business while being based in the US. Or, indeed, anywhere else.

Red Hat is not a basket case that needs to depend on the NSA's cash; it can easily do without. That it continues to take the NSA's 30 pieces of silver without flinching is an indication of a company that has one philosophy for public use and another for deals done in private.

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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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