updated 11:40 am EDT, Tue March 15, 2011
Stallman says free software prevents tracking
Richard Stallman, founder of the Free Software Foundation and the man behind the GNU operating system in the 1980s, now says he doesn't have or carry a cell phone. "It's Stalin's dream. Cell phones are tools of Big Brother," he said in an interview with NetworkWorld. "I'm not going to carry a tracking device that records where I go all the time, and I'm not going to carry a surveillance device that can be turned on to eavesdrop."
Stallman believes in freedom through technology, but only if the software is free, or allows the user to use, modify and distribute software however they wish. Even though Android carries a free software license, it contains non-free executables which users can't replace. "If the manufacturer can replace the executable but you can't, then the product is a jail," he said.
Free software, under Stallman's definition, will "probably" help users protect themselves from eavesdropping.
But Stallman sees many people are not willing to pay the price for this freedom. Stallman himself pays it, as he uses a Lemote Yeeloong notebook that runs on gNewSense, a Linux distribution made up of free software but which is extremely limited in features and speed, with just a 900MHz MIPS-like processor. He has also traditionally avoided much of the modern web and has considered cloud services potential traps.
Stallman goes on to explain that there are four essential software freedoms. Freedom Zero lets users run the program as they wish, while Freedom 1 lets them access the source code and change it to suit. Freedom 2 lets them make and distribute exact copies as they wish. Freedom 3 will allow a "contribution to the community," letting users distribute copies of the modified software. A license that keeps free software code from being redistributed is called copyleft by Stallman.
"Without those four freedoms," Stallman said, "The owner controls the program and the programs control the users.So the program is simply an instrument of unjust power. The users deserve freedom to control their computing. A non-free program is a system of unjust power and shouldn't exist. The existence and use of non-free software is a social problem. It's an evil. And our aim is a world without that problem."
Europe is more open to Stallman's ideas, and he often performs speeches there. In the US, open source is what replaces Stallman's idea of free software. In Ecuador, by contrast, state agencies are required to use free software and agencies that want to continue using non-free software have to apply for a temporary exemption. In Russia, the government is requiring agencies to replace proprietary software with free programs by 2015 to improve economics and security.