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Open source and security

Mark Taylor of Sirius has been tweeting today about how the UK public sector is waking up to the security benefits of open source software.

He’s now followed this up with the tweet below:

We have Mark, we have. And as Mark added after posting: “You read it here first!” 🙂

French PM promotes FOSS

Marianne - symbol of the French RepublicFrench Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault has just distributed a circular on “Use of free software in the administration” (in French, PDF) to all government ministries, according to a report from

This circular marks a major advance for free software in the French State’s IT systems. It lists past successes and the most appropriate case studies, enabling the outlines of a true free and open source software policy to emerge. The DISIC (Interministerial ICT Systems Directorate) working group which drafted the circular places special emphasis on the financial benefits of free software for those deploying it, but also stress the importance of contributing back to free and open source software development. Indeed it sets specific objectives for the latter: 5-10% of the savings made should be re-invested in the form of contributions.

image of French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault
French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault
In a covering letter for the circular, M Ayrault stresses the benefits of free software: “lower cost, flexibility of use, lever for discussion with vendors”.

Besides the Prime Minister’s remarks, the French National Council for Free Software (CNLL) adds that the free software sector in France accounts for 30,000 jobs and has an annual growth rate of some 30?%. It is therefore a competitive employment sector whose growth should be encouraged by the State by placing orders of course, but also by measures to support innovation and training, as well as by a legal and regulatory framework based around open standards and a rejection of software patents, so as not to disadvantage free and open source companies compared with the international IT giants.

The CNLL likewise notes that the State’s use of free software will allow a reduction of France’s strategic and financial dependency on foreign suppliers and promote local employment and SMEs, whilst obviating the tax avoidance indulged in by major international software vendors.

Note to our UK readers: can anyone out there see David Cameron issuing a similar circular? Your comments welcome below. 😉

Win a Raspberry Pi

Now that I’ve got your attention, there are a couple of conditions, but we’ll come to them in a while.

The October to December edition of Up Our Street, the magazine of Easton and Lawrence Hill Management, features a competition to win a Raspberry Pi, the little Linux box full of fruity, open source goodness, which is now being manufactured in Pencoed, South Wales.

Raspberry Pi in a crust
Live in Easton or Lawrence Hill wards in Bristol? Under 25? You could win this.

To enter, all that’s required is to write in and say why you’d like to win the Raspberry Pi. However, to enter you must be under 25 years of age and live in the Bristol City Council wards of Easton or Lawrence Hill.

Entries should be sent by email to stacy (at) and include your name, date of birth and address. Entries close on Friday, 30th November 2012 and, if you do enter, good luck from Bristol Wireless! 🙂

MyFi comes to Knowle West Media Centre

Would you connect your body to a wireless network?

Next Wednesday, 26th September, Knowle West Media Centre and Bristol University’s Professor Ian Craddock put on MyFi, an evening exploring future healthcare technologies in a relaxed, informal atmosphere. It’s free and open to anyone with an interest in science, technology and healthcare. You don’t need to be a scientist to enjoy the evening: just come with an open and enquiring mind, not forgetting some spare change for refreshments.

The event will run from 6.30 to 8.30 pm at Knowle West Media Centre, Leinster Avenue, Bristol, BS4 1NL (map) and Prof. Ian Craddock will address questions such as ‘Why might we welcome microchips into our own bodies?’ and ‘One day might we not have a choice?’, before taking questions from the floor after a refreshment break.

MyFi flyer

There’s no need to book for the event, but if you need more information, call Knowle West Media Centre on 0117 903 0444.

Italy: revised law makes open source default for the public sector

Last month the Italian Parliament approved an update to the country’s Digital Administration Code, making free and open source the default option for public sector organisations looking for new software solutions, Joinup reports. With effect from 12th August this year, Italy’s public sector bodies looking for new software solutions may either decide to develop their own solution, reuse an existing solution previously developed internally, use free and open source or combine any of these three options. The purchase of proprietary software licences is only allowed when a technical analysis shows that it is impossible for the public body to use open source or to reuse an existing solution.

Italian ICT lawyer Simone Aliprandi commented: “Open source is a strategic tool that can contribute to the growth of the country and to sustainable innovation”. Aliprandi also expects that open source will help reduce public spending.

Upgrading? Choose open source first

Prof. Jim Norton
A study by Prof. Jim Norton recommends that CIOs looking to replace legacy systems should consider open source options over proprietary software or public cloud services, according to a report published today by Australia’s ITNews.

The report was commissioned by travel business giant Amadeus, assessed the role of open source software in critical transaction systems and aimed at CIOs in the travel business and associated sectors who are envisaging replacing legacy proprietary IT systems.

Prof. Norton argues that open source provides enterprise IT with easier access to innovation via a “great global self-re-enforcing community of shared resources, ideas and development” and moreover that open source is also preferred by the next generation of tech talent, adding: “If you don’t provide them with tools for Drupal, for Hadoop, for jQuery, they aren’t happy bunnies.”

Amadeus, who commissioned Prof. Norton’s report, have also been moving their bookings and associated systems over to Linux too. Amadeus’ Executive Vice-President Hervé Couturier stated: “We commissioned this study to highlight to our customers and shareholders our use of open systems and contribution to open systems”.

We couldn’t agree more with Prof. Norton and Amadeus and the whole-hearted support for open source, particularly as the world plus dog is hurrying sheep-like towards the nebulous benefits of cloud computing!

It’s worth adding that we in Bristol Wireless have been extolling (and demonstrating) the benefits of open source for the last 10 years. Perhaps the message would be taken more seriously if the message was delivered more frequently by learned academics such as Prof. Norton, as well as T-shirted penguinistas such as ourselves. 🙂

Today is Software Freedom Day

Software Freedom Day logoToday, 15th September, is Software Freedom Day, an annual worldwide event to promote the role that free and open source technology can play in the modern world, where our everyday lives are increasingly dependent upon technology. At the time of writing, there are over 200 teams in 60 countries putting on events of which the closest to us in Bristol is being organised by the Herefordshire LUG.

Free and open source software gives you, the user, access to the source code. This ensures that you can know (or get checked) what exactly a piece of software will do. It avoids nasty surprises, spyware and all kinds of problems that we can’t be absolutely sure are avoided in closed software. Proprietary software keeps the source code locked away from public scrutiny, meaning that there is no way to know exactly what the software actually does and no way to trust it to safeguard your human rights. Transparent technologies are about ensuring you can trust the results and operation of your technology.

As an increasing proportion of the world’s population starts using technology, getting online and developing the next major life-changing event of the future (such as the birth of the internet was for many of us), it is vital to ensure open, transparent and sustainable approaches are considered best practice. This is important to a future where technology empowers everyone equally, where knowledge is forever and where our basic human freedoms are strengthened – not hampered – by technology.

Software Freedom Day is a global celebration of why transparent and sustainable technologies are now more important than ever.

Buenos Aires becomes Latin America’s technology capital for 2 months

We learn from GNU Solidario, a voluntary organisation that has been delivering health and education with free software since 2005, that the Argentine capital Buenos Aires will be turning into the “technological capital” of Latin America between September and October due to four events covering different aspects of ICT technologies.

Buenos Aires. Picture courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

As this article goes to press, one of the four events has already taken place, with the region’s first CityCamp held on 8th September. CityCamp was billed as a “free event on technology, the avant-garde, design and town planning, with an emphasis on citizen participation and the exchange of ideas. CityCamp is an “open source” community whose objective is the exchange of experience and the specification of co-ordinated working guidelines between local authorities, institutions, civil society organisations, social enterprises and business.

Between 17th and 21st September, the city plays host to the 8th Ekoparty, a computer security conference regarded to be the most important in the region.

There’s then a brief lull until 10th and 11th October when the Latin America Digital Cities Meeting visits Buenos Aires for the first time. This event is reputed to be the most prestigious digital cities meeting in the Spanish-speaking world. The meeting, of which this will be the thirteenth, has the objective to bring together mayors and governors, developers, international innovators, prominent thinkers and researchers and leading companies from around the world to share experience, knowledge and visions for the future of the city, including the role of digital citizenship, the role of social media and development of the internet, amongst others.

Last but not least, between the 15th and 17th October, Buenos Aires becomes an open source Mecca when it accommodates the International Free Software Conference (CISL) for the third consecutive year. CISL will see the city welcoming researchers, business people, specialists, academics and hacktivists from around the world. In addition, the speakers include such well-known openistas as Jon “Maddog” Hall.

The 3rd CISL conference will act as the framework for the staging of the first Argentine National Conference on E-Health, which is being organised by GNU Solidario. Under the co-ordination of GNU-Health community leader Luis Falcón, this parallel event will see specialists debating the implementation of open source technologies in the field of health policies in emerging countries.

Read the original article in full (Spanish).

A letter to Dawn

Dawn Primarolo MP. Picture courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Earlier today, Bristol Wireless wrote to its local MP, Bristol South’s Dawn Primarolo (affectionately known to Private Eye readers as Red Dawn. Ed.) regarding the coalition Government’s draft Communications Data Bill, aka the “Snoopers’ Charter”, which seems to be more draconian than the previous Labour government’s proposals along similar lines (and rejoicing in the name Interception Modernisation Programme (IMP). Ed.). The full text of the letter is reproduced below.

Dear Ms Primarolo

Subject: Draft Communications Data Bill

I’m writing to you as Company Secretary of Bristol Wireless, a community co-operative that functions as a small ISP (we resell bandwidth to clients who are our network) and telecommunications provider (we also supply VoIP telephony services) and is based in your constituency.

I write to express our concerns about the draft Communications Data Bill, also known popularly as the Snoopers’ Charter, and how we view it as harmful to the interests of ourselves, our users and the population in general.

Before entering into our specific arguments, I would point out that at present the only monitoring and surveillance of our users that we carry out at present is to ensure the network remains usable for all our users (e.g. prevention of file sharing to ensure our telephones work properly).

In addition, we are uncertain as to whether the draft Bill would compel a small organisation such as ourselves to install new hardware for monitoring communications data and to store the said data. We are a volunteer-run co-operative and do not have the human, physical and financial resources to do so. There is consequently a risk that we could be put out of business by this illiberal measure.

The draft Communications Data Bill raises significant issues connected with human rights, privacy, security and the nature of the society in which we wish to live. These issues are raised by the Bill’s fundamental approach, not its detail. Addressing them would, in our opinion, require such a significant re-drafting of the bill that the better approach would be to withdraw the bill in its entirety and rethink the way that internet security and monitoring are addressed.

According to Liberty, the draft Bill will turn a nation of citizens into a nation of suspects. It won’t matter if you have never got so much as a speeding fine, personal information about you will be stored just in case it may prove useful one day. Put in another way, would you – as an upright, law-abiding citizen – be happy if the police popped by tomorrow to install a CCTV camera in your living room just in case they one day suspect you may have committed a crime? Crime prevention arguments must not unquestionably trump the privacy of law-abiding citizens.

The general public has been misled by the government and the mainstream media as to the purpose of the draft Bill. It is not about tackling serious crime or terrorism. Access to communications data is granted to local authorities and hundreds of other public bodies for a wide range of purposes that have nothing to do with crime fighting.

The Government assumes too much in assuming it has an automatic right to keep track of all of citizens’ electronic communications with each other: what we’re looking at online and who we’re emailing, talking to on Skype or texting. It doesn’t. If this is HMG’s logic, why does it not demand that we all report to it every day, telling them who we’ve met for lunch?

Stockpiling large amounts of data indiscriminately simply amounts to blanket surveillance. It turns a nation of citizens into a nation of suspects. Experience shows that amassing large databases of personal information inevitably leads to discrimination. The retention process lends itself to the great temptation of “data mining” – fishing expeditions based on clumsy stereotypes rather than reasonable suspicion of individual wrongdoing. In addition, there are already problems with unauthorised access to sensitive information with existing systems such as the Police National Computer DVLA database and local authority and health records. These problems would be multiplied many times over with the amounts of stored data envisaged by the draft Bill.

Furthermore, any increase in the level of surveillance would inevitably result in an increased use of encryption, thus rendering the surveillance useless, unless public sector technicians are skilled in the art of removing encryption. Moreover, those alleged terrorists and organised criminals – if they are using the internet at all for their nefarious activities – are probably already using encryption and other security measures to obfuscate their activities.

Finally, I’d point out that given the technology that’s likely to be needed, the Government may well end up building the technical infrastructure to intercept all our communications.

I would be happy to discuss these matters further with you should you so wish. In addition, there is plenty of other information available via the Open Rights Group website (

Yours sincerely

Our Digital Planet lands in Broadmead

Our Digital Planet is an exhibition showcasing the positive opportunities and developments that have been made possible by the internet. The exhibition is being sponsored by Nominet Trust, the charity established by Nominet (the organisation which administers the .uk domain names. Ed.) and will be in Broadmead – between Boots and Marks and Spencer (map here) – until 24th September.

Our Digital Planet portakabin
The back end of the Our Digital Planet portakabin viewed from a strategically placed table and the chief scribe’s doppio espresso.

The exhibition also includes a portakabin containing several laptops where internet taster sessions will be held from 10.30 am top 4.00 pm, Mondays to Fridays, plus friendly advice. There still 8 mn. people who have never used the internet and these folk risk becoming more out of touch as more public services move online.

Before its arrival in Bristol, the Our Digital Planet exhibition was on the promenade at Brighton. After leaving our fair city, the exhibition moves on to Cardiff (26th September – 14th October), Liverpool (17th October – 4th November) and finally Glasgow (dates to be confirmed).

Your correspondent was also pleased to meet social media mentor and rural broadband advocate John Popham (readers with long memories may remember John from Twicket! Ed.) and Nominet Trust’s Kieron Kirkland on his brief call.

Update 11/09/12: John Popham has now recorded his thoughts on this first day at Our Digital Planet in Broadmead, of which a short excerpt follows:

In truth, it was a fairly slow day, a useful gentle introduction for me to the initiative, and I was fortunate to be working alongside Kieron Kirkland and Vicki Hearn from the Trust who were able to show me the ropes. A Monday in the middle of a shopping centre, was probably always going to be a quiet day. But, already some interesting issues are starting to emerge. This is true Digital Inclusion activity. Some of the people who approached us had very little knowledge of the internet at all, Nearly all were frightened, about giving away too much information about themselves, about losing money to scams, and about breaking something. They faced multiple barriers to getting online, but a common factor was fear engendered by media scare stories.

Read John’s post in full.

FSFE speaks out on software patents

FSFE logoThe Free Software Foundation Europe FSFE) is asking whether lawsuits like Apple vs Samsung will soon take place in Europe if proposals currently on the table for reform of the patent system are adopted.

The European Parliament is about to set the future course for Europe’s patent system. On 17th and 18th September, the Legal Affairs Committee of the European Parliament will discuss a proposal for an EU-wide patent.

This unitary patent proposal has faced massive criticism from different sides. In its current form, it will mean:

  • giving up political control over Europe’s innovation policy;
  • endangering due process for those involved in patent litigation;
  • cementing the European Patent Office’s dangerous practice of awarding patents on software.

In addition, the European Court of Justice has warned that the current unitary patent proposal is incompatible with EU legislation.

In order to preserve and enhance Europe’s capacity for innovation, the FSFE is demanding:

  • Political control over the patent system: Europe’s patent system must be placed under the European Parliament’s supervision. The patent system is an important tool of innovation policy and the European Parliament must not delegate its responsibilities to an organisation entirely outside the EU’s control.
  • Due process: The patent system has to guarantee due process for all, with proper checks and balances. Rather than being left at the mercy of an unsupervised special patent court, those involved in patent litigation must have recourse to national courts and ultimately to the European Court of Justice.
  • No patents on software: Parliament needs to effectively ensure that computer programs are excluded from patentability. MEPs must make it clear that a computer program cannot be patented just because it runs on generic data processing hardware.

How not to do an ‘online’ consultation

Yesterday, the last day for responses, Bristol Wireless responded to the Department for Education‘s consultation on internet blocking in the cause of keeping children safe online. The consultation arose from a campaign called ‘Safety Net‘, run by Premier Christian Media and SaferMedia, and supported by the Daily Mail. The campaign, and now the consultation is about requiring Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to block adult and other content at network level whilst giving adults a choice to ‘opt-in’ to this content.

However, taking part in the consultation wasn’t easy. Consultees had to do the following:

  • Download consultation questionnaire;
  • Fill in questionnaire;
  • Upload completed questionnaire to Dept. of Education website.

Sounds easy, doesn’t it? It wasn’t.

Here’s why. Ignoring the rhetoric on open standards coming out of their Whitehall neighbours the Cabinet Office, Education Department civil servants only made the consultation questionnaire available as a Microsoft Word file (Wot? No ODF? Ed.). The author of the questionnaire had also stuffed it full of Word macros; this made it very difficult, if not impossible, to open using alternative office suites, such as LibreOffice. Many highly experienced openistas encountered this: Alan Lord (aka the Open Sourcerer) mentioned on Twitter that he couldn’t open it, whilst Glyn Moody could, but found the questionnaire impossible to fill in! On the chief scribe’s, machine attempting to open the file either stalled to a complete halt or crashed the office suite! 🙁 Ultimately, the chief scribe was only able to complete the questionnaire as he had access to a copy of MS Office.

We cannot understand why the civil servants at the Dept. for Education couldn’t have designed the consultation questionnaire as an online survey. Bristol City Council has years of experience of doing online consultations in this manner – and they work very well indeed. Perhaps Sir Humphrey at the Dept. for Education should have called the Counts Louse for advice. As it is, out of 10 we’re giving this Education Dept. consultation a mark of 2. They’d better pull their socks up or it’ll be detention for them… 🙂

Update 08/09/12: It seems that the consultation did originally start out as an online consultation, but was rejigged owing to extremely embarrassing security cock-ups, as The Register reports.

The Register was first to reveal – within hours of the Department for Education publishing its parental internet controls proposal – that the DfE’s website was ironically exposing the email addresses, unencrypted passwords and sensitive answers submitted people who filled in the consultation’s questionnaire.

As a result of this additional information, we’ve now reduced the DfE’s mark to minus 2 out of 10. 🙂

We’re against software patents

For years, Bristol Wireless has been opposed to software patents. Firstly, they stifle innovation and cripple competition. To date they haven’t been too much of a problem in the UK. However, one only has to look across the Atlantic to see the kind of mess that can occur due to software patents: companies making more money from patent litigation than they do from ordinary commercial activities and the emergence of so-called ‘patent trolls‘, all exacerbated by what appears to be the preparedness of the USPTO to grant patents to prior art, particularly where computer hardware and software are concerned.

Nevertheless, software patents now look more likely to become a reality within the European Union with plans to set up a unitary patent system. Earlier this week Bristol Wireless became a signatory to the resolution below against a European unitary patent.


Our company is worried about the current plans to set up a unitary patent with a flanking unified patent court.

The European Patent Office (EPO)’s practices to grant software patents, under the deceiving term of “computer-implemented inventions”, pose a threat to our professional activities.

We are concerned that the regulation on the unitary patent, as agreed in December 2011 by the negotiators of the Council, the Commission, and the Committee on Legal Affairs of the European Parliament, leaves any and every issue on the limits of patentability to the EPO’s case law, without any democratic control or review by an independent court.

The regulation on the unitary patent is an opportunity for the EU legislators to harmonise substantive patent law in the EU institutional and jurisdictional framework, and to put an end to the EPO’s self-motivated practices extending the realm of patentability to software. Failing to do so, this unitary patent will do more harm than good to the EU ICT firms.

For these reasons, we urge legislators to adopt amendments which clearly state that the EPO’s decisions are subject to a review from the Court of Justice of the European Union, and which reaffirm the rejection of software patentability, as expressed by the vote of the European Parliament on September 24th, 2003 and July 6th, 2005.

A soon as the European Parliament returns after the summer break, MEPs will debate a draft regulation about a
unitary patent and a draft international agreement setting up a unified patent court. However, this project amounts to rubber stamp the EPO’s practices of granting software patents, which would be enforceable before a court that is likely to follow EPO’s case law.

For more information on the unitary patent, see the dedicated website

Bristol City Council information day on ICT procurement

Connecting Bristol recently announced that Bristol City Council will be holding an information day on Tuesday, 4th September 2012 between 9.30 am and 3.30 am at the Colston Hall, Colston Street, Bristol (map).

The purpose of the day is to explain the radical changes the council is making to its ICT procurement process, which will provide greater opportunities for small and medium-sized businesses (also known as SMEs. Ed.) to become suppliers to the council, particularly in the following areas:

  • telecommunications;
  • infrastructure and network;
  • server support;
  • web support.

Cllr. Jon Rogers, deputy leader of the council, said: “Our aim is that within a few years, more than a quarter of our annual spend on ICT is directed towards SMEs and I hope Bristol firms will be in a position to gain from this.”

In addition, the event will also feature news from the Cabinet Office about the Government’s G-Cloud sourcing arrangements and how SMEs can get involved.

Attendance at the event is by invitation only. Anyone wishing to attend needs to drop an email to with their details and Procurement Support will forward an invitation on to them. After you’ve received your invitation, that’s only one half of the process: invitees will still have to register before they can attend. 🙁

Guardian Government Computing also carried a report announcing the event.

Coming soon to Hebden Bridge – Open Source Hardware Camp 2012

The delightful Yorkshire town of Hebden Bridge (think Glastonbury with Yorkshire pudding & gravy. Ed.) plays host this year to the Open Source Hardware Camp 2012 (aka #oshcamp2012) from 9.00 am on Saturday, 15th September 2012 to 4.00 pm on Sunday, 16th September. The event will be held at The Birchcliffe Centre, Birchcliffe Road, Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire, HX7 8DG (map).

Anyone going can register here. Attendance will cost £10 plus a booking fee of £1.25

The organisers say that building on the success of last year’s OSHCamp, the 2012 event will be a weekend long affair with ten talks on the Saturday and four parallel workshops on the Sunday.

There will be a social event on the Saturday evening from 8.00 pm onwards, whilst anyone interested in pre-event drinks on the Friday should join the Open Source Hardware User Group (OSHUG) discussion list.

More information is available via the OSHUG website.

Bon voyage Sam and Naomi

On Wednesday evening, the families and friends of Sam Rossiter and Naomi Smyth, plus a few Bristol Wireless ne’er-do-wells, paid a fond farewell to the couple as they sailed off into the future under the Redcliffe bascule bridge to the strains of The Ambling Band.

Sam and the dinghy
Sam and the boat in which he and Naomi plan to sail around Europe

Sam has been a Bristol Wireless volunteer of many years’ standing (he was our fundraiser when the chief scribe first got involved with the Co-op. Ed.).

Sam and Naomi have sold their house in Bristol and lots of their stuff to sail around Europe (Naomi is hoping they’ll get as far as Greece) in a 22 ft boat they bought off eBay last year. On their voyage they’ll be calling in on various environmental and alternative living projects and learning survival skills. While they’re away Naomi will be filming any interesting projects they come across and they’ll be providing regular online updates of their progress.

We wish Sam and Naomi all the best for their trip, calm seas and plain sailing. 🙂

BBC News also has a report on Sam and Naomi’s trip.

Happy 19th birthday Debian

Debian logoOn August 16, the Debian community will celebrate that epic Linux distro’s 19th birthday since Ian Murdock’s original founding announcement. As is tradition, the Debian communities all around the world will be celebrating it with Debian Birthday parties.

A Debian Birthday party is a fun event, globally marking the appreciation and the joy of being part of the Debian community and could consist of workshops, talks, or bug squashing parties both virtual and in real life.

Organizing Debian Birthday parties is quite simple it you remember that the goal is to get together with other Debian enthusiasts and have fun. You might decide, for example, to have a key signing party, an installfest, a bug squashing party, or having cake and drinks!

If you need further help, please visit the Debian web pages at or send an email to .

Bristol Wireless will be raising a glass to its favourite distro (as used on our LTSP suites and small business servers) down at our unregistered office. ;)

Wicipedia Cymru, the world’s largest Welsh language site

Robin Owain of Wicipedia Cymru
Robin Owain of Wicipedia Cymru
When he was over in Wales recently for Monmouthpedia (news passim), the chief scribe had the good fortune to meet Robin Owain, a stalwart of Wicipedia Cymru, the Welsh language version of Wikipedia, the world’s largest open source project.

Wicipedia Cymru has a pool of some 200 editors who between them have now amassed (and maintain) some 36,000 Welsh language articles. This makes Wicipedia Cymru the world’s largest Welsh language website. It also has a very respectable number of visitors – 2.7 million per month (we could do with that! Ed.).

For the latest Welsh developments, see the Wikimedia UK blog.