License To Chill -- Hackers Hamstring Rights Violators
CROSSHAIRS: This story is important for anyone interested in hacking, human rights, information security, open-source software, Internet censorship, international law, international politics, or technology transfer.
LUBBOCK, TX, November 25, 2002 -- Hacktivismo, an international group of hackers and human rights activists, today issued the Hacktivismo Enhanced-Source Software License Agreement (HESSLA). The license offers open-source transparency, enhanced by legal remedies both for Hacktivismo, as licensor, and for end-users.
"The Hacktivismo Enhanced-Source Software License Agreement marks the first time technology transfer has been linked to protecting human rights," said Oxblood Ruffin, founder of Hacktivismo. "Our clients and end-users aren't building the firewalls to keep democracy out. They're locked inside trying to break free."
In contrast with more-traditional "free" or "open-source" software licenses, The HESSLA contains some novel terms unique to the history of information technology. These enhanced terms are designed to promote a broad range of human rights worldwide, as well as to empower end-users to seek new and additional remedies against human-rights violations by governments and governmental officials.
"Hacktivismo has sought to preserve, to the maximum degree, the primary advantages of 'free' and 'open-source' software," said Eric Grimm, an attorney with CyberBrief, PLC, who assisted Hacktivismo with drafting the license. "These advantages include ease of customization, the ability of any end-user to redistribute the software to friends and colleagues without paying any license fees, transparency, and enabling collaboration among volunteer and commercial developers worldwide."
The license enables both Hacktivismo and its end-users to go to court if someone tries to use the software in a malicious manner, or to introduce harmful changes into the software. It also contains more robust language than has previously been used to maximize enforcement against governments around the world. The HESSLA explicitly prohibits anybody from introducing "spy-ware, surveillance technology, or other undesirable code into modified versions of HESSLA-licensed programs. Additionally, the license prohibits any use of the software by any government that has any policy or practice of violating human rights.
The most novel innovation in the license distributes enforcement power instead of concentrating it in Hacktivismo's hands. If a private citizen happens to violate the license, then Hacktivismo is in charge of enforcement. But the situation is different if the violation is by a government or a governmental official. When Governments subvert human rights, and try to use Hactivismo-licensed software as part of any aspect of such a project, then the license empowers end-users act as enforcers too.
It is not unusual for victims of torture and other human rights abuses in other countries, to seek a remedy for violations of international law in U.S. court. But there's a difference between suing Slobodan Milosevic, and suing Republica Srpska for the official policies and abuses of the Milosevic regime. When victims have tried to name foreign governments as defendants, they have run into a brick wall called sovereign immunity. The Hacktivismo license makes it clear that the act of voluntarily using Hacktivismo software, if it is used by a government as a part of any project that has the effect of violating human rights, explicitly constitutes a waiver by that government of its sovereign immunity in the courts of other countries.
In other words, if Myanmar or China want to keep violating human rights -- then they have no choice but to steer clear from using Hacktivismo's software in connection with any of their wrongful projects. If not, then this software license just may be the victims' long-needed ticket into court; their pathway over the obstacle to justice previously presented by sovereign immunity.
Full text of the Hacktivismo Enhanced-Source Software License Agreement is available at: http://www.hacktivismo.com/hessla.html
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