This text was sent to all MEPs on the 21th of May 2008
Dear Member of Parliament
We want to draw your attention to two important initiatives regarding the accessibility and availability of public documents and electronic Government to all European citizens. Both draw an important connection between basic citizens' rights and the use of free and open standards by public institutions.
In order to follow through on existing principles of good government and civil function, governments and public administrators must consider the following two issues arising with the use of digital technology.
First, to participate in the political process and to have a voice in administrative decisions, citizens need access to relevant information. Openness and availability of information are quite easy to guarantee, by making texts, audio and video files available in non-proprietary formats that have freely available implementations.
Each citizen's right to participate in the political process without discrimination is one of the most important fundamentals on which our democratic society is built. These fundamentals find expression and protection not only in the broader provisions of international treaties, but have been formulated more precisely by the European Convention on Human Rights, national constitutions and national laws, and have been further refined by the jurisdiction of international and national courts. The right to non-discrimination, as well as those to have a fair trial, an effective remedy, and an independent judge are applicable in important parts of public administration too, and must be respected in all digital interactions with citizens.
It follows from these considerations not only that all future documents should be available in open formats, but legacy documents and files in proprietary formats should be replaced with ones adhering to open standards to ensure universal and continued access to them. Information on web servers should be engineered to operate on browsers built to published standards, and not depend on quirks or extensions of standards supported by specific implementations.
The Hague Declaration of the Digital Standards Organisation (Digistan), to be signed on May 21, is concerned with this issue. http://www.digistan.org/hague-declaration:en
Secondly, governments, by virtue of their unique position, size and influence, need to be sensitive to the effects their own actions have on the marketplace. Just as a government is not allowed to subsidize any private company preferentially, it also has to take special care not to allow a private protocol or a proprietary format to be given a preferential role in communications infrastructure. This objective can be supported by encouragement of open standards-developing processes, their protection from commercial bias and political interference, and by the early adoption of such formats whenever such action will avert the threat of a marketplace monopoly. Publication of government documents in open standard formats not only guarantees the objectives required in the first issue mentioned above but also provides a strong hand in building a level marketplace for software that supports those standards.
This second aspect is the concern of the Open Parliament Petition, available at http://www.openparliament.eu/
The FFII considers both initiatives important and well worth supporting.
We ask you not only to support these initiatives but also to act on them by reforming the IT practices of the European Parliament. It is important that citizens enjoy the right to access government documents and to view parliamentary records without being required to buy the products of a particular vendor and that they can communicate with the authorities and their services independent of which software vendor they choose.
Georg Jakob - Member of the board
J. Stephen Judd, Ph. D. - FFII activist
Georg Jakob +49 163 5461479 (German/English/Italian)
About the FFII
The FFII is a not-for-profit association active in over fifty countries, dedicated to the development of information goods for the public benefit, based on copyright, free competition, and open standards. More than 850 members, 3,500 companies and 100,000 supporters have entrusted the FFII to act as their voice in public policy questions concerning exclusion rights (intellectual property) in data processing.