France adds source code to list of documents covered by freedom of information laws

But there's an exception if disclosure would threaten the security of government information systems

French freedom of information law now treats source code as disclosable in the same way as other government records.

The new "Digital Republic" law took effect Saturday, with its publication in France's Official Journal.

It adds source code to the long list of government document types that must be released in certain circumstances: dossiers, reports, studies, minutes, transcripts, statistics, instructions, memoranda, ministerial replies, correspondence, opinions, forecasts and decisions.

But it also adds a new exception to existing rules on access to administrative documents and reuse of public information, giving officials plenty of reasons to refuse to release code on demand.

These rules already allow officials to block the publication of documents they believe threaten national security, foreign policy, personal safety, or matters before court or under police investigation, among things.

Now they can oppose publication if they believe it threatens the security of government information systems.

The restriction is disproportionate , according to April, a French lobby group promoting free software.

"It's based on the fantasy of security through obscurity, and risks defeating the purpose of the law," the group said Monday.

The law does have its bright side, according to the group: Source code -- and indeed any other documents -- released electronically under the law must be made available in an open standard format that can be easily reused and processed automatically.

But that enthusiasm for openness could have gone much further, said April.

Early drafts of the law proposed making free and open source software the rule in government service rather than the exception, but the final version requires only that certain government departments "encourage" the use of open source and open formats when developing, buying or using software.

That same weak encouragement is all that is required of government officials when it comes to migrating to IPv6 -- and this only from Jan. 1, 2018.

There's little sense of urgency about IPv4 migration in the private sector in France, though. All through last week, French businesses were still being allocated /22 blocks of 1024 IPv4 addresses, sometimes without a corresponding new allocation of IPv6 addresses.

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Peter Sayer

IDG News Service
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