Should software with dangerous real-life implications be free ?

8 réponses [Dernière contribution]
ac
ac
Hors ligne
A rejoint: 08/01/2021

Hello,

I come here assuming this is the best place to ask some newbie theoretical questions about free software.

I'm a software user, I believe I understand the philosophy of free software for the most part and I am convinced by it. I am a free software user and although not all software I use is free, I wish it was. I consider "doing all my computing without using nonfree software" a goal in my life.

I'm starting to have theoretical questions.

I've recently stumbled upon a list of ways for the police to stop a car in a chase, from the most dangerous ones, like bumping into the fleeing car until the driver loses control, or bursting the car's tires, to safer ones like grappling hooks or nets to stop the fleeing car with less chances of an accident. The safest one was the possibility for the police to remotely stop the car by hijacking its on-board computer. And it sounded like a good idea, as this drastically reduces the chances to create an accident and hurt or kill other people while catching the fugitive.

But this would require to put into every car a piece of software the driver would not have the control of. And this would violate the principles of free software.

I reckon I might have a pedestrian bias when I'm excited by the idea that cars could be potentially remotely controlled by the police. But I would think the same way of - for example - computer-controlled weapons, if we had any. Or any other thing that is, from my viewpoint at least, more of a threat than a convenience.

On the other hand, tools we use are just extensions of our bodies. If we all had artificial arms or legs, and the police could control the software in it, even with the best intentions, even if it was just to prevent people to kill or harm others, I would feel terribly threatened in my freedom to move.

We could have a principle written in law stating that backdoors can be implemented in hardware, but not in software, put that would just push the problem further back. We could have a principle stating that we can not implement backdoors in computers at all, but then we would have to rely on other, more dangerous techniques to stop outlaws and miss a great opportunity to use softer stopping techniques.

So, I don't know what to think now.

Here are my questions :

1. Should software which controls a tool that could potentially cause physical harm (like the one controlling your car, your futuristic computer-controlled gun, etc.) be free software (i.e. controlled by its user) ?

2. Are there any cases where it's not desirable to have free software (like when the software-controlled tool can have greater implications on society than on its user) ?

Sorry if all of this looks a bit messy, I've been thinking about this for a couple of days and I can't find any satisfying answer. I hope I'll find answers here which will make me save time. Maybe I'm just taking the problem by the wrong end.

As I'm still scratching my head on this I might have found some kind of a lead, here it is :

- 1. users should control the software tool they own

- 2. some tools are too dangerous for the society to be controlled by individuals and should be democratically controlled instead

- -> therefore the tools which are too dangerous for society, and are controlled by software should not be owned by individuals

In other words, we could just state that software-controlled cars should only be public transportation, and not privately-owned tools. This would make it possible to preserve free software principles without missing out on the possibility to ensure public security with the police being able to control software-controlled cars.

But maybe I'm still completely off. Please tell me if I'm going in the right direction.

Magic Banana

I am a member!

Hors ligne
A rejoint: 07/24/2010

Backdoors tend not to stay secret for long. At some point, the bad guys discover it. Or a cop, maybe bribed, gives it to them. Or the cop is the bad guy. In Brazil, where I live, the so-called "militias" (essentially mafias) are usually headed by military cops. They assassinate, traffic drugs, ... and support our extreme-right president in his goal of preventing elections from taking place next year (these days, he repeats that every day and organizes demonstrations for that to happen). If militias could take control over the onboard computer in the vehicle driving the main political opponent (according to the latest polls, 58% of the electors declare they would vote for him; 31% for the president), his life expectancy would drop even more. It is just too risky to give the police control over our software.

I have nothing against democratic laws preventing software from doing certain things. They already exist: radio communication software are restricted in the frequencies they can use, accounting software cannot fiddle the tax collection, etc. Free software actually helps to audit the distributed software. Think of the diesel gate: with freedom 1, the offending software, which was detecting whether the car was tested and adapting the gas emissions to respect the regulation (which was violated in normal conditions), would probably not have existed in the first place. There is no need to prevent the user from modifying such software either. Only to make her responsible of her modification, if she is caught infringing the law. The user should stay in control.

ac
ac
Hors ligne
A rejoint: 08/01/2021

> They already exist: radio communication software are restricted in the frequencies they can use

I was going to talk about this eventually, as my opinion on nonfree firmwares on cars will impact my opinion on the nonfree radio firmwares issue.

> Free software actually helps to audit the distributed software.

This argument doesn't work. If you tell pro-radio-lockdown people that radio firmwares should be free so people can audit them, they'll just propose tivoized firmwares. From a freedom perspective, they don't make a difference between "everyone can audit using their own device" and "a happy few can audit using testing-purposes hardware". From a security perspective they do because they think it reduces the chances to have harmful devices all over the place.

> Only to make her responsible of her modification, if she is caught infringing the law.

This is the main argument that was used in the radio lockdown debates and it didn't work either.

I can understand why. Imagine you're running a country where millions of people use multiple radio devices on a nation-wide radio network, and you've got a limited amount of resources in police and justice to prevent users to make parts of the network inoperative. It would be very tempting to try to physically prevent the misuse of radio frequencies rather than to spend huge police and justice worktime to try and catch the offenders every time it happens, after it has happened.

commodore256
Hors ligne
A rejoint: 01/10/2013

You can use mental gymnastics to "prove" anything and everything is "dangerous". Have you heard about the dangers of Dihydrogen Monoxide?

PublicLewdness
Hors ligne
A rejoint: 03/15/2020

My view is that I think all software whould be free software however I leave that decision up to the customer and software developers. I in no way think government should have any right to say non free software should be illegal. Governments the world over have shown time and time again that they are unfit to tell me what is best for me and do not have my best interests at heart. It is up to the customer to do their own research into the software they are using and find one that is a free alternative if one is available. If people make poor chocies then that is on them and their choice to make. The world has spent too much resources trying to protect people from themselves at the expense of personal freedom.

Avron
Hors ligne
A rejoint: 08/18/2020

> My view is that I think all software whould be free software however I leave that decision up to the customer and software developers. I in no way think government should have any right to say non free software should be illegal.

Do you mean that it is ok if the government provides non-free software that people must use to do their tax declaration or to have full acess to public services?

PublicLewdness
Hors ligne
A rejoint: 03/15/2020

"Do you mean that it is ok if the government provides non-free software that people must use to do their tax declaration or to have full acess to public services?"

My personal beliefs are that public money should go towards public code. If the government requires me to use software to interact with them then I should be allowed to use free software to do so and my tax dollars should only go to fund free software options. The difference between me and many others are I wish to accomplish this by electing officials that share this belief not by adding laws. The reasons I prefer this are:

1. Goverments will just break the law anyway if they want to
2. More laws means more tax payer money spent on enforcement
3. More laws gives the government more power where I would prefer they had less

Magic Banana

I am a member!

Hors ligne
A rejoint: 07/24/2010

Governments the world over have shown time and time again that they are unfit to tell me what is best for me and do not have my best interests at heart.

For you personally, I agree. However, part of its job is to prevent you from harming the rest of us, including through software. Using the frequencies reserved for air traffic, committing tax offenses and having you car disrespect gas emission regulations are the examples I previously gave.

andyprough
Hors ligne
A rejoint: 02/12/2015

Evil people will just steal your software if they want to use it. They will just stick a backdoor on your software whether you like it or not. Your licensing makes no difference to them. What good does it do for you to not make it libre?