New Zealand's lead state sector agency yesterday responded to criticism of its new digital rights management guidelines, saying the policy does not alter its support for open source software in government agencies.
Cory Doctorow, of the University of Southern California Annenberg Center for Public Diplomacy and a contributor to the high-profile technology weblog boingboing, wrote yesterday that the guidelines make no mention of what he calls "the disastrous impact of DRM on open source", despite the government's official policy of encouraging open source.
"DRM relies on its owners not knowing how it works and not being able to change how it works. If I give you a song that can only be played on five computers, it defeats the point if you can change that to 50,000 computers. But the point of open source is that it is better for society, individuals, and competition if anyone who cares to can discover how her tools work, improve those tools, and publish her improvements," Doctorow wrote.
He argued that using DRM under the policy will force New Zealanders and New Zealand businesses to license software to do business with government and force open source developers to close their source code.
However, a spokesman for the State Services Commission, which prepared the policy, said government support for open source remains unchanged. He said the guidelines impose a set of requirements on international IT vendors for the technology to be acceptable for use in government.
The spokesman said he could see Doctorow's point, but the government was not going to reject the use of DRM and trusted computing technologies out-of-hand.
"DRM on its own largely depends on users not being able to see how it works, but when combined with trusted computing it is possible to create DRM schemes where people know how they work but can't circumvent them," the spokesman said.
"The devil is in the detail."
He said the guidelines have been put out there for debate and discussion and to provide guidance to agencies faced with decisions about the use of the emerging technologies. The document has also been adopted as a working paper by the intergovernmental International Working Group on Data Protection in Telecommunications.