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Re: [Fsfe-uk] Explanation of Tivosiation and problems - comments sought

From: Alex Hudson
Subject: Re: [Fsfe-uk] Explanation of Tivosiation and problems - comments sought
Date: Tue, 19 Dec 2006 19:19:19 +0000

On Tue, 2006-12-19 at 17:28 +0000, MJ Ray wrote:
> Ciaran O'Riordan <address@hidden> wrote:
> > Medical devices and voting machines are ok for similar reasons.  Here's a
> > fuller explanation:
> > http://fsfe.org/en/fellows/ciaran/ciaran_s_free_software_notes/gplv3_embedded_in_devices
> That's depressing.  If I end up as a user of a medical computer (which
> seems likely at some point), then am I no longer deserving of free
> software's freedoms as much as possible?
> Verification and authentication are the keys to these problems, not
> unmodifiable software, whether through ROMs or tivo-style locks.

I agree with you about ROMing; software being on unmodifiable memory is
basically side-stepping the issue by mooting the practical point. The
reason that software is unmodifiable is surely irrelevant when asking
whether or not it should be free.

(The obvious counter argument is an EPROM: semi-permanent memory that
cannot be upgrade by software alone. For many this is still a software
distribution media, as sad as that is, and of course you can upgrade
socketed ROMs/EPROMs.)

I think the medical machine / voting machine issues are murky, though. I
can quite happily subscribe to the point of view that I should have
access the to complete source of a voting machine, in the same way that
I can have access to the complete mechanic of the current paper & box

But some of the other aspects are less clear-cut. E.g., mobile phones -
detecting and denying service to a rogue handset isn't necessarily a
useful defence. Radio is an excellent example of the tragedy of the
commons when unregulated, because you usually can't ignore someone
else's misuse.

And it also brings us back to issues of safety. The extent to which you
should be able to do potentially dangerous things is something I doubt
people will ever agree on; e.g., does my freedom to modify software
override your freedom to have my wifi card not futz with your wireless
phone when you're trying to dial 999? Software freedom doesn't stand
alone in a vacuum; it exists in a context of other rights and
responsibilities, and I find it difficult to believe (on a personal
level) that it is an absolute right (that is, that it is self-evident in
all situations). I think that belief will vary largely from individual
to individual, though, in the same way some people think knives should
be banned and others think we should be able to carry firearms.



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