Initially,Zimmerman distributed PGP under the GPL,but backed
away from that when he discovered that the GPL didn’t give him much
control over improvements.In fact, , they proliferated and it made it
hard to keep track of who created them.Today,the source code comes
with a license that is very similar to the BSD license and lets people cir-
culate the source code as much as they want.
“I place no restraints on your modifying the source code for your own
use,”he writes in the accompanying documentation,and then catches him-
self.“However,do not distribute a modified version of PGP under the name
‘PGP’without first getting permission from me.Please respect this restric-
tion.PGP’s reputation for cryptographic integrity depends on maintaining
strict quality control on PGP’s cryptographic algorithms and protocols.”
Zimmerman’s laissez-faire attitude,however,doesn’t mean that the
software is available with no restrictions.A holding company named
Public Key Partners controlled several fundamental patents,including
the ones created by Ron Rivest, , Adi Shamir, , and Len Adleman.
Zimmerman’s PGP used this algorithm,and technically anyone using
the software was infringing the patent.
While “infringing on a patent”has a certain legal gravitas,its real
effects are hard to quantify.The law grants the patent holders the right to
stop anyone from doing what is spelled out in the patent,but it only allows
them to use a lawsuit to collect damages.In fact,patent holders can collect
triple damages if they can prove that the infringers knew about the patent.
These lawsuits can be quite a hassle for a big company like Microsoft,
because Microsoft is selling a product and making a profit.Finding a
number to multiply by three is easy to do.But the effects of the lawsuits on
relatively poor,bearded peace activists who aren’t making money is harder
to judge.What’s three times zero? The lawsuits make even less sense
against some guy who’s using PGP in his basement.
Still, the threat of a lawsuit was enough of a cudgel to worry
Zimmerman.The costs, however,put a limit on what PKP could
demand.In the end,the two parties agreed that PGP could be dis-
tributed for noncommercial use if it relied upon a toolkit known as
RSAREF made by PKP’s sister company, , RSA Data Security.
Apparently, this would encourage people to use RSAREF in their
commercial products and act like some free advertising for the toolkit.
FreeForAll/139-276/repro 4/24/00 9:31 AM Page 270
The patent lawsuit,however,was really a minor threat for Zimmerman.
In 1994,the U.S.government started investigating whether Zimmerman
had somehow exported encryption software by making it available on the
Internet for download.While Zimmerman explicitly denounced violating
the laws and took pains to keep the software inside the country,a copy
leaked out.Some suggest it was through a posting on the Net that inad-
vertently got routed throughout the world.Was Zimmerman responsible?
A branch of the U.S.Customs launched a criminal investigation in the
Northern District of California to find out.
Of course,determining how the source code got out of the country
was a nearly impossible exercise. . Unless Zimmerman confessed or
somehow kept some incriminating evidence around, , the prosecutors
faced a tough job painting him as a lawbreaker.The software was avail-
able for free to anyone inside the country,and that meant that everyone
had at least an opportunity to break the law.There were no purchase
records or registration records.No one knew who had PGP on their
disk.Maybe someone carried it across the border after forgetting that
the source code was on a hard disk.Maybe a foreigner deliberately came
into the U.S.and carried it out.Who knows? Zimmerman says it blew
across the border “like dandelion seeds blowing in the wind.”
To make matters worse for the forces in the U.S.government that
wanted to curtail PGP,the patent held by RSA wasn’t filed abroad due to
different regulations.Foreigners could use the software without care,and
many did.This was the sort of nightmare that worried the parts of the U.S.
intelligence-gathering branch that relied upon wholesale eavesdropping.
Eventually, the criminal investigation amounted to nothing. No
indictments were announced.No trials began.Soon after the investiga-
tion ended,Zimmerman helped form a company to create commercial
versions of PGP.While the free versions continue to be available today
and are in widespread use among individuals,companies often turn to
PGP for commercial products that come with a license from PKP.
When the RSA patent expires in September 2000,the people will be
free to use PGP again.
The GNU project has already worked around many of these impediments.Their
Privacy Guard package (GNU PG) is released under the GNU license.
FreeForAll/139-276/repro 4/24/00 9:31 AM Page 271
Zimmerman’s experiences show how free source code turned into a
real thorn in the side of the U.S.government.Businesses can be bought
or at least leaned on.Merchandise needs to flow through stores and
stores have to obey the law.Red tape can ruin everything.But free soft-
ware that floats like dandelion seeds can’t be controlled.People can give
it to each other and it flows like speech.Suddenly it’s not a product
that’s being regulated,but the free exchange of ideas between people,
ideas that just happen to be crystallized as a computer program.
Of course,a bureaucracy has never met something it couldn’t regu-
late, or at least something it couldn’t try to regulate. . Zimmerman’s
experience may have proved to some that governments are just speed
bumps on the infobahn of the future,but others saw it as a challenge.
Until the end of 1999,the U.S.government has tried to tighten up the
restrictions on open source versions of encryption technology floating
around the world.The problem was that many countries around the
globe explicitly exempt open source software from the restrictions,and
the United States has lobbied to tighten these loopholes.
The best place to begin this story may be in the trenches where sys-
tem administrators for the U.S.government try to keep out hackers.
Theo de Raadt,the leader of the OpenBSD team,likes to brag that the
U.S.government uses OpenBSD on its secure internal network.The
system designers probably made that choice because OpenBSD has
been thoroughly audited for security holes and bugs by both the
OpenBSD team and the world at large.They want the best code,and
it’s even free.
“They’re running Network Flight Recorder,”de Raadt says.“It’s a
super sniffing package and an intrusion detection system.They can tell
you if bad traffic happens on your private little network that the firewall
should have stopped.They have OpenBSD running NFR on every net-
work.They run an IPSEC vpn back to a main network information
center where they look and do traffic analysis.”
That is,the departments watch for bad hackers by placing OpenBSD
boxes at judicious points to scan the traffic and look for incriminating
information.These boxes,of course,must remain secure.If they’re com-
promised, they’re worthless. . Turning to something like OpenBSD,
which has at least been audited,makes sense.
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“They catch a lot of system administrators making mistakes.It’s very
much a proactive result.They can see that a sys admin has misconfig-
ured a firewall,”he says.
Normally,this would just be a simple happy story about the govern-
ment getting a great value from an open source operating system.They
paid nothing for it and got the results of a widespread, open review
looking for security holes.
De Raadt lives in Canada,not the United States,and he develops
OpenBSD there because the laws on the export of encryption software
are much more lenient.For a time,Canada did not try to control any
mass market software.Recently,it added the requirement that shrink-
wrapped software receive a license, , but the country seems willing to
grant licenses quite liberally.Software that falls into the public domain is
not restricted at all.While OpenBSD is not in the public domain,it does
fit that definition as set out by the rules.The software is distributed with
no restrictions or charge.By the end of 1999,senior officials realized that
the stop crypt policy was generating too many ironic moments.
This is just another example of how free source software throws the
traditional-instincts regulatory system for a loop.Companies sell prod-
ucts,and products are regulated. Public domain information,on the
other hand, , is speech and speech is protected, , at least by the U.S.
Constitution.Relying on Canada for network security of the Internet
was too much.
In January 2000,the U.S.government capitulated.After relentless
pressure from the computer industry,the government recognized that
high-quality encryption software like OpenBSD was common
throughout the world.It also recognized that the quality was so good
that many within the United States imported it.The government loos-
ened restrictions and practically eliminated them for open source soft-
ware.While many people are still not happy with the new regulations,
open source encryption software can now flow out of the United States.
The distributors need only notify the U.S.government about where the
software is available.The commercial,proprietary encryption software
was not as lucky.The regulations are now substantially easier on the
corporations but they still require substantial review before an export
license is granted.
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The difference in treatment probably did not result from any secret
love for Linux or OpenBSD lurking in the hearts of the regulators in the
Bureau of Export Affairs at the Department of Commerce.The regula-
tors are probably more afraid of losing a lawsuit brought by Daniel
Bernstein.In the latest decision released in May 1999,two out of three
judges on an appeals panel concluded that the U.S. . government’s
encryption regulations violated Bernstein’s rights of free speech.The
government argued that source code is a device not speech.The case is
currently being appealed.The new regulations seem targeted to specifi-
cally address the problems the court found with the current regulations.
Encryption software is just the beginning of the travails as the gov-
ernment tries to decide what to do about the free exchange of source
code on the Net.Taxes may be next.While people joke that they would
be glad to pay 10 percent sales tax on the zero dollars they’ve spent on
GNU software,they’re missing some of the deeper philosophical issues
behind taxation.Many states don’t officially tax the sale of an object;
they demand the money for the use of it.That means if you buy a stereo
in Europe,you’re still supposed to pay some “use tax”when you turn it
on in a state.The states try to use this as a cudgel to demand sales tax
revenue from out-of-state catalog and mail-order shops, , but they
haven’t gotten very far.But this hasn’t stopped them from trying.
What tax could be due on a piece of free software? Well,the state
could simply look at the software,assign a value to it,and send the user
a bill.Many states do just that with automobiles.You might have a
rusted clunker,but they use the Blue Book value of a car to determine
the tax for the year and each year they send a new bill.This concept
proved to be so annoying to citizens of Virginia that Jim Gilmore won
the election for governor with a mandate to repeal it.But just because
he removed it doesn’t mean that others will leave the issue alone.
If governments ever decide to try to tax free software,the community
might be able to fight off the request by arguing that the tax is “paid”
when the government also uses the free software. If 7 out of 100
Apache servers are located in government offices,then the government
must be getting 7 percent returned as tax.
One of the most difficult problems for people is differentiating
between wealth and money.The free software movement creates wealth
FreeForAll/139-276/repro 4/24/00 9:31 AM Page 274
without moving money.The easy flow of digital information makes this
possible.Some folks can turn this into money by selling support or
assisting others,but most of the time the wealth sits happily in the pub-
Today,the Internet boom creates a great pool of knowledge and
intellectual wealth for the entire society.Some people have managed to
convert this into money by creating websites or tools and marketing
them successfully,but the vast pool of intellectual wealth remains open
and accessible to all.Who does this belong to? Who can tax this? Who
controls it? The most forward-thinking countries will resist the urge to
tax it,but how many will really be able to keep on resisting?
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The writer,P.J.O’Rourke,once pointed out that wealth is a particularly
confusing concept to understand.It had nothing to do with being born
in the right place.Africa is filled with diamonds,gold,platinum,oil,
and thousands of other valuable resources,while Japan has hardly any-
thing underground except subway tunnels and anthrax from strange
cults.Yet Japan is still far wealthier even after the long swoon of their
O’Rourke also pointed out that wealth has nothing to do with raw
brains.The Russians play chess as a national sport while Brentwood is
filled with dim bulbs like the folks we saw during the O.J.Simpson mur-
der trial.Yet poverty is endemic in Russia,while Brentwood flourishes.
Sure,people wait in line for food in Brentwood like they did in Soviet
Russia,but this is only to get a table at the hottest new restaurant.
Wealth is a strange commodity,and understanding it keeps econo-
mists busy.Governments need to justify their existence in some way,
and lately people in the United States use their perception of the
“economy”as a measure of how well the government is doing.But
many of their attempts to use numbers to measure wealth and prosper-
ity are doomed to failure.One year,the economists seem to be franti-
cally battling deflation, then they turn around and rattle on and on
about inflation.They gave up trying to measure the money supply to
follow inflation and seem,at times,to be flying the economy by the seat
of their pants.Of course,they’re not really in charge.One minute you
can’t have growth without inflation.The next minute you can.It’s all a
bit like ancient days of tribal living when the high priest was responsible
for dreaming up reasons why the volcano did or did not erupt.Some
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days the money supply smiles upon us,and on other days,she is very,
Wealth in the free software world is an even slippier concept.There’s
not even any currency to use to keep score.Let’s say we wanted to know
or at least guesstimate whether the free source world was wealthy.
That’s not too hard.Most of the guys hacking the code just want to
drink caffeinated beverages,play cool games,and write more code.The
endless stream of faster and faster computer boxes makes this as close to
a perfect world as there could be.To make matters better,new T-shirts
with clever slogans keep appearing.It’s a nerd utopia.It’s Shangri-La
for folks who dig computers.
Of course,deciding whether or not someone is wealthy is not really
an interesting question of economics.It’s more about self-esteem and
happiness.Someone who has simple needs can feel pretty wealthy in a
shack.Spoiled kids will never be happy no matter how big their palace.
There are plenty of content people in the free software world,but there
are also a few who won’t be happy until they have source code to a huge,
wonderful,bug-free OS with the most features on the planet.They
want total world domination.
A more intriguing question is whether the free source world is
wealthier than the proprietary source world.This starts to get tricky
because it puts Apples up against oranges and tries to make compli-
cated comparisons.Bill Gates is incredibly wealthy in many senses of
the word.He’s got billions of dollars,a huge house,dozens of cars,ser-
vants,toys,and who knows what else.Even his employees have their
own private jets. All of the trappings of wealth are there. . Linus
Torvalds,on the other hand,says he’s pretty happy with about $100,000
a year, although several IPOs will probably leave him well off.
Microsoft has thousands of programmers who are paid well to write
millions of lines of code a year.Most open source programmers aren’t
paid much to create what they do.If money were a good measure,then
the proprietary source world would win hands-down.
But money is the answer only if you want piles of paper with pictures
of famous Americans on them.Several countries in Latin America gen-
erate huge piles of money from drugs,oil,and other natural resources,
but the countries remain quite poor.The leaders who end up with most
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of the money might like the huge disparity,but it has very distinct limi-
tations.When it comes time for college or medical care,the very rich
start flying up to the United States. . Johns Hopkins, , a hospital in
Baltimore near where I live,provides wonderful medical service to the
poor who live in the surrounding neighborhood.It also has a special
wing with plush suites for rich people who fly in for medical treatment.
Many are potentates and high government officials from poor countries
around the world.
People in the United States can enjoy the synergies of living near
other well-educated,creative,empowered,and engaged citizens.People
in poor societies can’t assume that someone else will design great roads,
build airlines,create cool coffee shops,invent new drugs,or do anything
except get by on the few scraps that slip through the cracks to the great
unwashed poor.The ultrarich in Latin America may think they’re get-
ting a great deal by grabbing all the pie,until they get sick.Then they
turn around and fly to hospitals like Johns Hopkins,a place where the
poor of Baltimore also enjoy quite similar treatment.Wealth is some-
thing very different from cash.
Most folks in the free source world may not have big bank accounts.
Those are just numbers in a computer anyway,and everyone who can
program knows how easy it is to fill a computer with numbers.But the
free source world has good software and the source code that goes along
with it.How many times a day must Bill Gates look at the blue screen
of death that splashes across a Windows computer monitor when the
Windows software crashes? How many times does Torvalds watch
Linux crash? Who’s better off? Who’s wealthier?
The question might be asked,“Is your software better than it was
four years ago?”That is,does your software do a better job of fetching
the mail, , moving the data, processing the words, , or spreading the
sheets? Is it more intuitive,more powerful,more stable,more feature-
rich,more interesting,more expressive,or just better?
The answers to these questions can’t be measured like money.There’s
no numerical quotient that can settle any of these questions.There will
always be some folks who are happy with their early-edition DOS word
processor and don’t see the need to reinvent the wheel.There are others
who are still unhappy because their desktop machine can’t read their mind.
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Documents you may be interested
Documents you may be interested