NewScientist.com has an interesting interview with Patrick Ball, deputy director of the Science and Human Rights Program at the American Association for the Advancement of Science. The interviewer asked Ball about the importance of free and open-source software to his work.
I assumed that free/open-source software is useful to human rights groups in the same way that it’s useful to any nonprofit—or really anyone—high quality software that doesn’t have to cost money. But Ball points out a particular benefit to human rights work that I hadn’t considered:
The other part of the copyright problem is piracy – or, more appropriately, unauthorised copying. The beauty of this argument, from the point of view of, say, the government of Burma, is that they can say to the World Trade Organization, OK, we’re going to crack down on piracy – and then they go arrest a bunch of human rights groups. If we use free software, that all goes away. Also, living in miserable poverty is not a human rights violation, but it’s clearly not in the spirit of human rights law. I don’t think any intelligent person thinks that better standards of living are coming to any place without computing. And one of the impediments is paying a huge tax on every computer sold in the world to a rich company in the state of Washington. The way out is a fundamentally different approach to software, but freedom comes at a price. As a human rights guy I accept lower salary, longer hours, more difficult travel schedule and using free software. These are all costs I pay in order to live according to a set of principles.