[Fsf-friends] Re: GNU Freedom

Ramanraj K ramanraj@md4.vsnl.net.in
Thu Sep 11 09:58:29 IST 2003

Re:   GNU  Freedom   could   become  the   mother   of  all   freedoms

GNU Freedom is properly the title  of a long essay, but it cannot wait
that long as I am obliged to explain this atleast briefly.

Hammurabi inscribed  his code  that included law  like "an eye  for an
eye; tooth for a tooth" on  a stone pillar.  The US Constitution, that
provided for constitutional justice  is written on parchment and still
preserved in their archives,  and this style of constitutional justice
has been adopted by several independant states on their own free will.
All  freedoms find  their source  in  some basic  legal document.   To
record the  law, people have  used human memory, wood,  leather, clay,
stone, bronze,  iron, parchment, paper, palm leaves  and anything that
the people considered extremely  durable[FN-1] to record.  The storage
of  laws in  the medium  of computer  hardware and  its  capability to
execute the written code in  ways meaningful to us through software is
something unknown in legal history.

Let us proceed further in the light of our own constitution and the US

Since independence and  the coming into force of  our constitution, we
enjoy  several freedoms.  Part  III of  the Indian  Constitution lists
several basic  fundamental rights and Article 32  guarantees the right
to  move the  Supreme Court  of India  for the  enforcement  of rights
conferred in Part III. Without Article 32 the rest of Part III will be
a list  of empty  rights.  Of  course, we have  Article 226.   But the
point  is that,  without  procedures to  enforce  rights and  freedoms
guaranteed, Part III Rights and Freedoms would be as empty as our Part
IV Directives.  Many of our freedoms  were adopted on the lines of the
US constitution.

Execution and enforcement  have a close connection.  We  are forced to
seek enforcement only because of  some failure or defect in execution.
Courts are actually engaged in debugging the errors encountered in the
execution of laws.

All  software, by  their  very  nature, execute  rules  in ways  which
ultimately makes sense  only to humans.  If execution  of laws is done
with the aid of computers, then the need to seek enforcement is almost
redundant.   Then,  the  software   becomes  the  tool  and  means  of
safeguarding all the other freedoms.

Freedoms are positive  rights so far as people  are concerned, but the
very  same  freedoms  are  negative  injunctions  against  the  state.
Generally,  if  a  constitution   says  that  "freedom  of  speech  is
guaranteed", it  only means  that the state  cannot make any  law that
takes away  the freedom  of speech from  its people.  Our constitution
gives these freedoms  under Article 19 using a  positive language, and
on the contrary, the US constitution plainly speaks of the freedoms as
negative  injunctions against  the state.  But the  end result  is the
same, for  example, the penal law  of the state cannot  punish you for
making a speech, and if any such law is made, the courts will hold the
law unconstitutional and refuse enforcement.

Freedom from discrimination on certain ground is guaranteed in Article
15 of  our constitution  prohibiting state discrimination  against any
citizen on grounds of religion, race, sex etc.

Suppose a state law proposes:

if ($citizen_sex == 'male'){
    // some discriminatory privilege to male citizens
    $citizen_pay = 10000;
} else {
    $citizen_pay = 8000;

A parser can handle the discrimination violating Article 15, and could
be made to return an error [FN-2].  

Error:  if ($citizen_sex == 'male') { ... } violates  Article  15
Error:  legislation failed

Software can elegantly execute laws and deal with attempts to encroach
freedoms at  the earliest  point of time.   There are  fewer occasions
when something unconstitutional or ultra  vires is allowed to be done,
and   then   latter  correct   the   error   through  enforcement   of
constitutional rights.  This  is the main reason why  sofware could be
the  fulcrum on which  all our  rights rest,  and could  be used  as a
convenient tool to achieve results  that may otherwise be difficult to
enforce, provide or measure.

Statutory  interpretation  would   also  become  superfluous,  because
computer  languages are  well  designed to  rule  out ambiguities,  or
handle  ambiguities  in  well  known ways,  and  irresponsible  absurd
interpretations of the law will become a thing of the past.

Of course, there  would be several executive actions  that can be done
in  the name  of law  without a  computer presence,  like  searches or
arrests.  Errors in  such cases can be dealt with  by the judiciary as
done now,  but perhaps with  greater speed and accuracy  with computer
aid.  Such  errors are  best corrected only  by education,  where also
computers can play an important role.

Computers are no  substitute for us, but computers  can aid to protect
all  our rights  as  guaranteed by  a  constitution, through  reliable
execution that can easily be supervised by us.

It is needless to illustrate execution of state laws with computer aid.

States that used  paper, parchment and stone in the  past now have the
option to use  computer hardware and software to  store their laws and
execute  them  as  proceedings,  for  better  enforcement,  peace  and
prosperity.   Computer  hardware  could  be purchased.   But  hardware
cannot be directly used without  the aid of several software tools and
aids. Software needs to be written from scratch or obtained from other
sources.  Writing  software from scratch  is not easy or  possible for
governments.  If this  were possible, then there is no  need to go for
third party software. States often  desire tried and tested things for

Opting  for   non-free  software   means  that  the   state  seriously
compromises its sovereignty, because of non-disclosure of source code,
and a  host of other defects  inherent to the very  nature of non-free
software.  The law  itself is open, and any software  that it may rely
upon for execution also necessary has to be open.  Black box method of
software use is also undemocratic  and can never be trusted.  Choosing
free  software is  the only  solution that  does not  compromise state
sovereignty, as  the state can  independently examine the  source code
before using it  freely, and make any modification  to suit its needs,
without any permission  from even the author of  the code. [Though not
required by the  GPL, giving credit to the author(s)  of the code will
show stateliness!].  Free  software fits the law like  a glove, in all
aspects.[FN-3] There is in fact no reason to consider software and law
as two different fields.

Once the state decides upon free software, it will need to choose some
database  application to  store its  laws and  proceedings,  and other
software tools  to "execute"  written code.  A  host of  free software
tools like Apache, BIND, PostgreSQL,  PHP, Perl, Gimp, gcc, emacs, and
others are  all required  to create a  computer based legal  system to
make  democracy work  right for  a state.  Practically, most  of these
tools need make or gmake, and gcc to compile for use.  make, gmake and
gcc are  GNU software. Without RMS  and GNU, there would  have been no
make or  gcc.  Therefore, GNU is at  the very heart of  any open legal
system that can work from a computer network.

Therefore  free software  is  required to  create  a democratic  legal
system that works on computer networks, and execution of all the other
freedoms will flow through the free software used.

Freedom of  life is meaningless  if I do  not have free safe  water to
drink.  Experts in Chennai say, 1mm of rain if stored well, could meet
the one day's supply needs  of Chennai people.  Chennai receives about
450 mm of rain annually.  If we go without water most of the days, the
fault lies in us.  I would  expect the software the state uses to keep
measure  of  rainfall received,  the  storage  achieved,  and use  the
feedback to  achieve a sustained flow  of water to  quench our thirst.
Just like water flows through  rivers, the law could flow through free
software, and satisfy the most pressing needs of mankind.

Freedom  of life  is again  empty if  we have  too much  chloride base
chemical pesticides  in soil [annual worth valued  at Rs.4000 crores].
If the state resolves to  stop using chloride based pesticides and opt
to direct  use of neem powder,  dung ash, coffee  powder [coffee plant
produces caffeine as a pesticide to ward away pests, but we take it as
a "beverage"], breeding of sparrows and other birds that prey on pests
naturally all  the time, we should be able  to monitor execution  of a
state plan  to do this from our home, without much  strain.  People or
the sofware itself can raise hue  and cry if things are not proceeding
as  intended, to  make amends  and corrections  until things  work out
well.  Then our freedom of life will have some meaning.

That  is  why,  free software  could  become  the  mother of  all  our
freedoms.   In nature,  life flows  through the  mother.   The British
Parliament  refused grant to  Charles Babbage,  who then  proceeded to
construct his Analytical  Engine with his own funds, and  at a time of
financial crisis his  mother alone encouraged him to  keep up the good
work advising  "--pursue it, even if  it should oblige you  to live on
bread and cheese."  All hackers  owe a tribute to Charles Babbage, the
first  software  developer, to  ensure  that  law  flows through  free
software, and  take care of  the freedom of  the people like  a mother
takes  care  of her  children.   The day  when  such  free sofware  is
available and states adopt such free software, the  tribute would have
been made.

-K. Ramanraj.

Foot Notes:-

FN-1: Computer hardware may be the  least durable in this sense of the
word, but it is the best choice to achieve the true object of law

FN-2: To enable  this, variable naming rules are  just as important in
law also

FN-3: Please refer to the philosophy section at http://www.gnu.org

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