Empowering citizens to control technology for a more transparent and fair society

03/09/2021, por Angel

Empowering citizens to control technology for a more transparent and fair society

Lina Ceballos

Free Software Foundation Europe


Empodera Impact talks with Lina Ceballos, member of The Free Software Foundation (FSFE), a charity that empower users to control technology. Lina Ceballos works as Junior Project Manager. She has a bachelor in Law and a Master degree in Political Science. Since the beginning of her academic and professional career, Lina has always wanted to make an impact in society and work towards a more transparent and fair society. This is one of the main reasons she decided to join the FSFE team.

Hi Lina, thank you for being with us to share your story. Explain to the audience how was born and what is the philosophy behind Free Software Foundation Europe (FSFE)?

The FSFE was born in 2001 envisaging the society in which we live today; a society where digital technologies are a crucial part, not only of our daily lives, but also of the infrastructure of our modern states. Thus, since 20 years ago, the FSFE has been taking action in order to assure that users control technology.

We believe we need technology that empowers users instead of restricting them. That is only possible thanks to the freedoms that Free Software offers: the freedom to use the software for any purpose, to study the software code without restrictions, to improve the software, and to share the software and any of its improvements. The absence of any of these freedoms makes a software proprietary and therefore the control over it becomes feeble.

We are also keen to show how software freedom contributes to other freedoms in our lives based upon the benefits that individual, organisations and administrations can attain with Free Software. Saving costs, avoiding vendor lock-ins, a more fair competition and a collaborative ecosystem are some of these benefits. Not to mention the positive impact that this openness can have in the construction of a more democratic, inclusive, and sustainable digital society.

Your main goal is to empower users to control technology, what kind of actions do you undertake to achieve this?

Our work is based on three main pillars that are all connected to the empowerment of users to control the technology they use. These are: public awareness, policy advocacy and legal support.

We make sure that people know and understand the principles behind Free Software and its benefits in our society. That is the reason we focus on rising public awareness. We participate in different events by giving talks in different conferences and events around Europe and by offering workshops that aim to empower users. We also have a monthly newsletter to keep the public up to date, as well as a bi-monthly podcast in which we discuss Free Software related topics with experts from around the world. We have a very nice stock of merchandise and promotion material with stickers, t-shirts, posters, leaflets, etc in different languages, that our community can order to help us spread the word.

We are aware that in order to achieve political outcomes for our demands we need professional advocacy. We take part in consultations, parliamentary hearings and public discussions regarding Free Software to make sure the political decisions have a positive impact in the control that users have over technology. Furthermore, we facilitate the world’s largest legal network on Free Software matters. Our legal experts help our community with concrete licensing consultancy and we provide guidance with a practical approach for Free Software projects. In that sense, we empower people to understand, develop and demand a more transparent and open digital ecosystem.

Software is deeply involved in our lives, how can citizens be more ethical in their digital life?

I think being ethical in the digital era is a matter of making conscious decisions and that it is only possible when users understand and have the freedom to decide what software to use.

In the current digital landscape this remains a challenge. Users cannot always make completely free decisions when it comes to the software they use. This is exactly where Free Software plays a fundamental role to achieve self-determination. The openness of the source code that characterises Free Software allows users to study and understand how the program actually works. Once users get a complete understanding of the digital solutions they employ and have the possibility to decide whether they want to keep using it or not, that is the moment when we reach a more ethical approach in our digital lives.

Your daily work is based on three main pillars: public awareness, policy advocacy, and legal support. What kind of Campaigns are you developing to spread the message to civil society and policy makers?

We have various campaigns that are all very interesting and important. For instance, our “Public Money? Public Code!” campaign, which has become quite known around Europe and among public administrations. Since 2017 the FSFE has required that publicly financed software developed for the public sector should be made publicly available under a Free Software license. If it is public money, it should be public code as well. Our demand has been supported by more than 200 organisations and administrations and by around 31.000 individuals.

www.publiccode.eu

Router Freedom is another of our policy activities since 2013. This freedom is understood as the right to choose one’s own modem and router as a basic condition for a neutral, safe and healthy digital environment. If you cannot control whether your router is free, your digital freedom will be compromised. We, as FSFE, have been committed to this cause throughout different channels; public awareness, community engagement and law monitoring.

https://fsfe.org/activities/routers/

We have been rising awareness around Software Patents in Europe as well. We believe that software patents add legal risks and therefore high costs to software development and distribution by giving patent holders the legal power to completely prohibit software developers from using the patented ideas. That is the reason we have been working on informing people about these risks while also following the legislative development of the matter to safeguard users’ right to digital freedom.

You can read more about the rest of our activities and campaigns here

 

Currently one of FSFE core policy activities is Router Freedom. Tell us more about this initiative and the impact you have achieved so far.

As I just mentioned, Router Freedom is the right that consumers of any Internet Service Provider (ISP) have to choose and use a private modem and router instead of equipment that the ISP provides. Router Freedom safeguards some other freedoms and principles that are key in a democratic society such as freedom of choice, privacy and security, innovation and competition, sustainability and digital sovereignty.

Since 2013, FSFE has been actively engaged with Router Freedom by raising awareness of the urgency of protecting Router Freedom. We are also engaging our community to get active in contacting their national regulators, consumer organisations and political representatives by sharing all the information regarding Router Freedom with them. For this, we have prepared an activity package which consists of an activity summary, a monitoring map, an end-user experience survey as well as a wiki page with relevant information for local engagement.

Moreover, we have been monitoring the rules regarding Router Freedom in Europe and follow closely the transposition into national legislation of the recent European Electronic Communications Code (EECC) in the 27 EU member states.

There are some successful cases around Europe. After the Compulsory Router Campaign we started in 2013 and three years later being Router Freedom adopted by law, Germany is the precedent of our success regarding this freedom. Finland has also recently established Router Freedom after the implementation of the Net Neutrality into national regulation highlighting as well that Router Freedom also applies to new technologies such as 5G and FTTH (fibre to the home). To these success stories Italy is part as well by reassuring the protection status of free choice of terminal equipment. Last but not least, Greece has confirmed Router Freedom by ensuring that this freedom guarantees privacy and data protection for end-users.

We have participated in different public consultations and we will keep monitoring the implementation of the EECC into national legislation around all the European member states, which will mean a close work with the National Authorities.

Your network of volunteers comes from all parts of Europe. Tell our audience how to join this growing community.

We are a charity which means that big part of our work is thanks to the support of all our volunteers and contributors. We have volunteers supporting us in our work areas, organising local events to promote Free Software in their communities and/or helping us with translations.

We are always happy to have more people joining. We are an European Organisation and we would like get more people around Europe involved in our cause. If you are reading this and you are interested in joining us as a volunteer or contributor you can reach us via email contact@fsfe.org or you can also visit our website www.fsfe.org/contribute in which you will find more information around how to get active and/or join us. We highly appreciate as well the support throughout donation or monthly contributions. We believe that many small people, in small places, making small things can alter the face of the world.

To what extent can citizens be involved in your projects? Could you share some success stories

As I have mention along this interview, our work has always been focused on empowering civil society and to encourage them to get involved in our activities. Recently, In the framework of our campaign “Public Money? Public Code!” we have started to offer a workshop called “Contact your administrations”. The goal of this workshop is to provide civil society with the necessary information and arguments to reach out their public administrations to demand more Free Software in the public digital infrastructure. In this regard, we are encouraging our community to get more active around our “Public Money? Public Code!” demands. This is the case with Router Freedom as well, as I just mentioned.

I think one of my favourite success stories is the case of the Oviedo’s local hacker-space* “Pica Pica HackLab” that convinced the Parliament of Asturias in Spain to sign our open letter and support our “Public Money? Public Code!” Initiative, being the first parliament to do so. This was a success because the Parliament of Asturias not only signed our open letter, but also currently understands what Free Software is. We believe this was a window of opportunity to raise the importance of bringing this debate into the public agenda in Spain but also around Europe, and the most beautiful part is that it was achieved entirely by civil society efforts.

“Public Money? Public Code!” is another highlight campaign: Why is software created using taxpayers’ money not released as Free Software?

I think in this regard there are two factors playing a crucial role. First, the lack of knowledge about Free Software by public administrations and the misconceptions that spin around it, such as Free Software is develop by amateurs and therefore does not offer any support, or Free Software poses a security risk, or that Free Software is less user friendly than the most used proprietary software, etc.

The second one, which is even more serious is the strong vendor lock-in sill present in the IT of government administrations in Europe. This vendor lock-in is understood as the strong dependency on a single supplier which creates obstacles by increasing the costs and efforts involved in switching to another supplier. Creating with this a lack of interoperability and highly restrictive conditions for users.

Bearing this in mind, we have prepared a brochure in which we aim to explain the benefits of Free Software in the public digital infrastructure, as well as demystify some of those misconceptions. We highlight best practices already taking place around Europe to serve as guidance for more administrations to acknowledge and implement more Free Software. So in a sense, we understand administrations and public bodies as technology users, and we are aiming to educate them in this regard, while also actively tackling the factors that enable vendor lock-ins.

From fsfe you also offer a legal, non-partisan network of experts involved in Free Software legal issues. Do you actually help citizens and other organizations with related legal matters?

Yes, our legal experts help our community to gain a better understanding of the legal matters around Free Software. Moreover, they are also helping our community with specific licensing or legal questions. In this regard, we have our successful REUSE initiative which aims to make the understanding and display of licensing and copyright information easier for Free Software developers. In the framework of NGI0 – a European Commission Project – we have been scanning and supporting Free Software projects by having a look directly to their repositories and suggesting good practices that we will make their projects REUSE compliant.

We have now launched REUSE BOOSTER, which as its name says, it aims to boost the process of adopting these best practices as well as the general understanding of licensing and copyright for those projects that are interested in doing so. Furthermore, once a year, the FSFE hosts a Free Software Legal and Licensing Workshop, which gives world-leading legal experts the opportunity to personally discuss issues and best practices related to Free Software licensing.

What is your opinion and predictions on how is everything going forward during and after the global crisis of COVID-19 and how can disruptive technologies can generate sustainable solutions?

I think the COVID-19 challenged pretty much all of our dynamics as society and also showed us that a big part of our activities can be carried online, giving a huge importance to our digital sphere. So in a sense, our dynamics are going a bit more digital every day, thus digital freedom is vital.

I believe now more than ever the discussion around the kind of software in which we rely on is crucial. Over the last years we have witnessed how Free Software can foster a more transparent, inclusive and sustainable digital infrastructure. Therefore, in this post pandemic era, we will make sure to keep assuring that users can control the increasing digitalisation of their lives through self-determination and knowledge, and that public administrations can respond to the fast digital modernisation of states making sure to guarantee not only a more ethical but also a more sustainable digital environment.

More info at:

Website: https://fsfe.org/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/fsfe

Mastodon Social: https://mastodon.social/@fsfe

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