Free software is not politics: petitions for the Italian elections

Free software is not politics: petitions for the Italian elections

I have been saying this for many years: free software must not be associated with an ideology or political party. Doing that would:

  1. be an utter falsity;
  2. damage our ability to advocate.

I am not the only one with this opinion! As you may know, we'll have elections in Italy next Sunday and Monday, and the Italian Association for Free Software is now promoting two remarkable initiatives.

The first is aimed at voters: they are asked to sign an online petition. Voters are asked to declare they will vote for candidates who declare that they will promote free software.

The second is aimed at candidates, who are asked to sign a document. By signing this document they commit themselves to promote and vote laws that, among other things, 1) will bind the civil service to free software and open formats, and 2) declare practices that limit citizens' freedoms (such as the infamous Trusted Computing) as illegitimate.

A list of the parties that have at least one candidate signing the document is available, along with the parties that don't have any.

This is an initiative that every national free software association should replicate when their election time comes!

A few references about Trusted Computing

To get a glance of what "Trusted Computing" means and why you should care about it, you can read from the following resources:



Terry Hancock's picture

In examining similar initiatives where I live, we concluded that advocating a requirement to use free software was not a good policy. There are too many examples of government needs where there is no free software application that does what you need.

That creates a bad "slippery slope" situation: you can't have a blanket ban against using proprietary software (because in some cases it would be totally impractical, and result in enormous taxpayer expense), so you have to add "weasel words" that let an organization escape the requirement. And in practice, they'll manage to escape it for everything (e.g. "we have to use word because Open Office doesn't support..." [some arcane feature]).

Also, it's quite easy to argue that such a rule is "anti-competitive", using exactly the same arguments that have been used (for example) against Microsoft (e.g. you certainly don't want laws that require you to use a particular proprietary software, do you?).

And besides, it doesn't matter. I am not materially harmed because some government employee uses MS Word to write their documents.

What harms me is not being able to read the documents because they are in some proprietary format. And that is a MUCH stronger case.

So it's better to focus on open standards: standard, well-documented file formats that put free software and proprietary software on an even footing.

Of course, in general, given such an even-footing, free software will win in the marketplace anyway, because it can offer as much or more value for less cost. More importantly, free software users will not be discriminated against, whether the world at large uses the same software or not.

Proprietary software companies know this of course, so they'll try to fight such an initiative, but you've given them a much harder target if they have to justify storing public records in proprietary file formats.

Ryan Cartwright's picture

Whilst I agree with the sentiment - but perhaps not the action - it seems you have a conflict here.

I have been saying this for many years: free software must not be associated with an ideology or political party.

and the title "Free software is not politics".

Both indicate that free software should not be a political issue, yet the actions you support and advocate..

This is an initiative that every national free software association should replicate when their election time comes!

..are saying that free software should be political.

Whilst I would love to see governments using only free software, it's very difficult to legislate that without creating bigger issues. What I would want to see was leglisation which demanded that government:

  • did not exclude those of us who choose to use free software
  • did not insist that those who communicate with it do so using proprietary platforms (e.g. websites insisting on I.E.)
  • properly consider free software as part of any software procurement process.

Aside from that, I agree with Terry that government use of open standards[1] should definitely be under legislation.


[1] Although these days that might not mean an ISO approved standard!

Terry Hancock's picture

Actually, a lot of ISO standards aren't fully "open", as I discovered when I tried to get the STEP documentation, so that's not necessarily a surprise.

Terry Hancock's picture

I noticed the conflict too. But I think what Marco is trying to say is that supporting free software shouldn't become a partisan issue.

Certainly, it's true that there's a danger if one party tries to "own" free software advocacy. It creates a risk that the other party (or parties) will feel it has to fight free software, which we don't want.

Marco Marongiu's picture

Thanks for your replies, I think I need to clarify my point a bit.

Free software is for people. And people are people, no matter what their faith or their political inclination is. Therefore, I strongly believe that FS is not tightly bound to any ideology.

For this reason, I don't expect that a single political party has the duty to advocate free software. I'd rather like a number of politicians from different parties to promote laws in favour of free software. One of the aforementioned petitions works exactly that way: it aims at politicians, no matter what their party is.

Believe it or not, not only I found people that stated an equation between free software and communism; they went further saying that promoting FS I was also promoting the ideas behind it, that is: I was promotimg communism. They decided I am a communist.

Feel free to be what you are, but don't let this become a wall between you and anybody else that, in the end, is doing the same thing you do: promoting free software.

Author information

Marco Marongiu's picture


Born in 1971, Marongiu graduated in applied mathematics in 1997; he's now a full-time system administrator for a well known software company in Oslo, Norway. He's also a Perl programmer and technical author and lecturer by passion.
Marongiu has been a Debian User since version 1.1.10 and he helped found the GULCh Linux Users Group (Gruppo Utenti Linux Cagliari), the first one in Sardinia.