The discussions around SOPA have shown a very unfortunate side of United States policymaking — that its policymakers are not the slightest afraid of legislatively ordering American-run corporations to sabotage their customers in order to further United States foreign policy.
Today, software from two American companies – Microsoft and Apple – run most of the world’s infrastructure, in terms of governments, authorities, social security, et cetera. It has come to be taken for so granted, you can barely buy a piece of hardware for the current ecosystem without code from at least one of these two American corporations.
(UPDATE: I’ve seen quite a few network admins complain about this assertion. Note that I’m not pointing to network infrastructure such as switches, raw iron or web servers, but society’s infrastructure: social security, medical records, police databases. In my experience, almost all of these are consultant-written solutions on top of Windows, or sometimes Apple, platforms.)
There is a problem with proprietary, closed software, which makes me a bit uneasy. We get a serious democratic deficit when the citizens are not able to inspect if the computers running the country’s administrations are actually doing what they claim to be doing, doing all that and something else invisibly on top, doing the wrong thing in the wrong way at the wrong time, or doing nothing at all. (Judging from most governmental IT projects, they all fall into one of these four categories.)
But this problem is peanuts compared to what has just appeared. In the debate around the American Stop Online Piracy Act, American legislators have demonstrated a clear capability and willingness to interfere with the technical operations of American products, when doing so furthers American political interests regardless of the policy situation in the customer’s country. Actually, it’s even worse: American legislators have demonstrated a willingness to do this just because of the different laws in the customer’s country, outside of the United States.
American legislators are now taking themselves the right to sabotage technical global resources just because they happen to be run from within the imaginary lines in the sand that we call America.
Worded differently, the American legislature has taken itself the right to sabotage American products, boobytrapping them to enforce American laws and economic interests outside of its borders by directly sabotaging the administration of other countries.
It doesn’t matter if this abomination of a mail-order law, SOPA, passes this time around. The American legislators have shown beyond any doubt that they would not hesitate a second to push America’s trade interests by using the fact that American-written code is running the administration in many, if not most, countries.
As a result, American corporate code cannot be trusted from this day onwards. That specifically means Microsoft and Apple. Shifting from these platforms takes years, and American legislators can decide to enforce American trade interests in much shorter time than that. Therefore, the shift needs to start as soon as possible.
What to shift to, I hear you ask? Android is hardly an alternative, as it too is American-made (albeit by a slightly better player, Google, that is still as much under the jurisdiction under these powercrazy legislators). Other countries’ legislators may get just as intense a power trip at short notice.
If there was ever a compelling overriding reason of national security and sovereignty to switch to free software, this is it. And there’s no shortage of good free software — I’ve been running free software almost exclusively for the past decade, save for very specialized tasks.
Free software is not a matter of money anymore, if it ever was. It’s a matter of freedom and sovereignty.
UPDATE – TLDR: American legislators rule over American companies. These legislators have just demonstrated a willingness and a capability to build in a projection of American trade interests into American IT products, by forcing the corporations on US soil to do so. More often than not, this is not in the interest of the country where the customer is located, or even legal there. Since American legislators have demonstrated this capability and willingness, American corporate software can no longer be trusted, through no fault of the corporations concerned.