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You are here: Home Blogs Licensing No one should have to use proprietary software to communicate with their government

No one should have to use proprietary software to communicate with their government

by Donald Robertson Contributions Published on May 04, 2016 12:36 PM
The Free Software Foundation (FSF) submitted a comment to the U.S. Copyright Office calling for a method to submit comments that do not require the use of proprietary JavaScript.

Proprietary JavaScript is a threat to all users on the Web. When minified, the code can hide all sorts of nasty items, like spyware and other security risks. Savvy users can protect themselves by blocking scripts in their browser, or by installing the LibreJS browser extension and avoiding sites that require proprietary JavaScript in order to function. But some sites are harder to avoid than others. This is particularly the case when the site is required for citizens to communicate or interact with their own government. If no free alternative means are provided, then users can be blocked from participating in the democratic process.

The FSF long ago called on to free its JavaScript, but as of yet we have not succeeded in getting the message through. Increasingly, protecting and promoting free software requires interacting with government agencies, so this impediment directly impacts the FSF's core mission. Most recently, the Copyright Office refused our comment calling for an end to the DMCA's anti-circumvention provisions because we would not submit it via their proprietary interface. Kevin R. Amer, Senior Counsel for Policy and International Affairs told us they would not accept our DMCA comment unless we used Jacqueline C. Charlesworth, General Counsel and Associate Register of Copyrights confirmed once we had submitted that the submission was unacceptable. Over twelve hundred co-signers signed-on to amplify our voice, but the proprietary JavaScript on made sure that the Copyright Office's ears were shut.

On March 1st, 2016, the Copyright Office announced a call for comments on an update to their technology infrastructure. We submitted a comment urging them to institute a policy that requires all software they develop and distribute to be free software. Further, we also urged them to not require people to run proprietary software in order to communicate or submit comments to them. Unfortunately, once again, the Copyright Office requires the use of proprietary JavaScript in order to submit the comment and they are only accepting comments online unless a person lacks computer or Internet access. However, we mailed a copy via the post and we are posting it publicly in the hopes that they will read it and understand that their infrastructure is so broken that we cannot even tell them that it is broken. At this time, we have received no response from the Copyright Office, and once again our comment has not been published.

The most absurd part of all this is that other government agencies, while still using, are perfectly capable of offering alternatives to submission. At the end of 2015 we were able to submit comments to the Department of Education via the post. Our comments regarding the White House's Federal Source Code Policy could be submitted via email. While we urge those agencies to provide a simple Web form for submitting comments that does not rely on proprietary JavaScript, the fact that they do offer other ways to submit at least means that free software users are not completely shut out. The Copyright Office is the only agency we have dealt with that refuses to offer any method of submission that doesn't require proprietary software.

The threat of proprietary JavaScript won't go away on its own. We need your help to rid the Web of proprietary JavaScript, and to ensure that citizens in every country can communicate freely with their own government. Here's what you can do to help:

  • Help the Free JavaScript Campaign by joining the Free JavaScript Action Team. You can help in particular on the issue of government mandated proprietary JavaScript by finding and listing government run Web sites in your country that require proprietary JavaScript and planning actions to make those sites free.
  • If you microblog, please share the following message or your own. We strongly suggest that if you use Twitter, you do it in a way that avoids using proprietary software:

No one should be forced to use proprietary software to communicate with their government. cc @CopyrightOffice

  • Consider supporting our work on proprietary JavaScript and other kinds of government proprietary software requirements by making a donation.
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