German coalition favors German-owned or open source software, aims to lock NSA out

The new coalition government promised Monday to support German software and take steps to protect European data from spying

Germany's new coalition government listed open source software among its IT policy priorities, and said it will take steps to protect its citizens against espionage threats from the NSA and other foreign intelligence agencies.

Coalition parties CDU, CSU and SPD signed up to the plans Monday in Berlin.

The new government's goal is to keep core technologies, including IT security, process and enterprise software, cryptography and machine-to-machine communication on proprietary technology platforms and production lines in Germany or in Europe, according to the coalition agreement.

But the government will also promote the use and development of open platforms and open source software as an alternative to closed proprietary systems, and will support the use of those in Europe, the parties said in the agreement. The public sector will need to consider open source solutions as a possibility when purchasing new IT, they said.

They also want to compete on a global level with "software made in Germany" and strengthen the quality of security, data protection, design and usability by doing so.

The government also plans to start operating in a more transparent way, for example by making parliamentary documents and transcripts of debates available in open data formats that can be used under free licenses, they said.

This is much better than the last coalition agreement, said Matthias Kirschner vice president of the Free Software Foundation Europe (FSFE).

However, while there are good intentions, there are also missed opportunities, he said. For instance, It would have been better if the new government had prioritized the use of open source software for public institutions instead of simply making them consider it, he said, adding that the agreement's formulation is often cautious.

He said the FSFE regretted that references in earlier drafts to open standards had disappeared from the final agreement, and had been replaced with weaker terms such as interoperability.

Kirschner called on the coalition to move from words to concrete action. "The question is: how hard will they try?" he said.

The Business Software Alliance welcomed the new government's focus on nurturing technology innovation in Germany.

"However, if this is extended to technology mandates or procurement preferences, whether based on development model or country of origin, it will significantly impede innovation and create unnecessary barriers to trade, investment, and economic growth," said Thomas Boué, director of government relations, EMEA of the BSA software alliance in an email. A level playing field for all competitors will ensure that customers have access to the best products and services the world has to offer, he said.

"Governments should lead by example, making procurement decisions that are based on merit for the needs at hand and best value for money -- rather than according to national origin," he added.

The agreement also dealt with security under a heading "Consequences of the NSA affair."

The coalition parties plan to keep pushing for more explanations about who spied on German citizens to what extent, and to negotiate a legally binding agreement with the U.S. to protect Germans against espionage.

Communications infrastructure also needs to be made safer, they said. They will push European telecommunications providers to encrypt communication links within the E.U. They also plan to make sure that European telecommunication providers are not allowed to forward data to foreign intelligence agencies.

The coalition will advocate for the Europe-wide introduction of a requirement for companies to report to the E.U. when they transmit the data of their customers without their consent to authorities in third countries. Besides that, it will press for the renegotiation of the E.U.-U.S. Terrorist Finance Tracking Program (TFTP) Agreement and the Safe Harbor agreement on the protection of personal data.

Under the TFTP Agreement, some data from the SWIFT international bank messaging system is transmitted to U.S. authorities. More recently, it was alleged that the NSA spied on the data.

Following revelations about the NSA's spying on Internet data, the European Parliament had called for the suspension of the Safe Harbor agreement. The European Commission decided not to suspend the agreement, but instead put forward a range of proposals to strengthen it.

On Tuesday, the German Bundestag re-elected Angela Merkel as German chancellor for the third time. The inaugural meeting of the cabinet was scheduled to take place at 5 p.m. local time.

Loek is Amsterdam Correspondent and covers online privacy, intellectual property, open-source and online payment issues for the IDG News Service. Follow him on Twitter at @loekessers or email tips and comments to loek_essers@idg.com

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