Thursday, 31 March 2011

NH: House advances bill to require courts use open source software and open data formats

Often, the judicial branch (not individual courts, but the entire branch) is treated legislatively like a "mere" agency and directed/ordered similarly with respect to state standards and statutes. New Hampshire HB 418 is no exception:
"State agency" means any department, commission, board, institution, bureau, office, or other entity, by whatever name called, including the legislative and judicial branches of state government, established in the state constitution, statutes, or executive orders.
HB 418 would have the judiciary and other "state agencies" use open source software and open data formats for their various systems. Moreover, the legislation requires the adoption of a statewide information policy regarding open government data standards through "consultation" with the executive branch's department of information technology. The department's commissioner would develop a statewide information policy based on principles spelled out in the bill.

Possible separation of powers arguments aside, the declarations made by the "general court" (in New Hampshire, the legislature is officially called the "general court") associated with the bill are notable in their own right as other states administratively, or yes even legislatively, try to grapple with the subject:
I. The general court finds that:

(a) The cost of obtaining software for the state’s computer systems has become a significant expense to the state;

(b) The personnel costs of maintaining the software on the state’s computers has also become a significant expense to the state;

(c) It is necessary for the functioning of the state that computer data owned by the state be permanently available to the state throughout its useful life;

(d) To guarantee the succession and permanence of public data, it is necessary that the state’s accessibility to that data be independent of the goodwill of the state’s computer system suppliers and the conditions imposed by these suppliers;

(e) It is in the public interest to ensure interoperability of computer systems through the use of software and products that promote open, platform-neutral standards;

(f) It is also in the public interest that the state be free, to the greatest extent possible, of conditions imposed by parties outside the state’s control on how, and for how long, the state may use the software it has acquired; and

(g) It is not in the public interest and it is a violation of the fundamental right to privacy for the state to use software that, in addition to its stated function, also transmits data to, or allows control and modification of its systems by, parties outside of the state’s control.

II. The general court further finds that:

(a) The acquisition and widespread deployment of open source software can significantly reduce the state’s costs of obtaining and maintaining software;

(b) Open source software guarantees that its encoding of data is not tied to a single provider;

(c) Open source software enables interoperability through adherence to open, platform-neutral standards;

(d) Open source software contains no restrictions on how, or for how long, it may be used; and

(e) Since open source software fully discloses its internal operations, it can be audited, at any time and by anyone of the state’s choosing, for internal functions that are contrary to the public’s interests and rights.

III. Therefore, it is in the public interest that the state of New Hampshire consider using open source software in its public computing functions.

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