Open Source Software: Just So Darned Good

August 9, 2019

The Trump administration’s proscription against doing business with Chinese tech company Huawei has cast a wide net, and one blogger suspects such a net may soon ensnare one of our favorite things. Bunnie’s Blog warns, “Open Source Could Be a Casualty of the Trade War.” The writer checked out Executive Order 13873, and considers how the incredibly broad text could be used to target just about any tech company around the world. They also extensively criticize the technique of weaponizing supply chains and its unintended consequences, so navigate to the blog post to delve into that reasoning.

One of those consequences, they fear, may be the very existence of open-source projects. Huawei, as our immediate example, has contributed significantly to the Linux Foundation. Linux has, so far, escaped the Huawei blacklist net because of a license exemption; however, Bunnie writes:

“Should Huawei be designated as a ‘foreign adversary’ under EO13873, it greatly expands the scope of the ban because it prohibits transactions with entities under the direction or influence of foreign adversaries. The executive order also broadly includes any information technology including hardware and software with no exemption for open source. In fact, it explicitly states that ‘…openness must be balanced by the need to protect our country against critical national security threats’. While the context of ‘open’ in this case refers to an ‘investment climate’, I worry the text is broad enough to easily extend its reach into open source technologies.

We noted this statement too:

“There’s nothing in Github (or any other source-sharing platform) that prevents your code from being accessed by a foreign adversary and incorporated into their technological base, so there is an argument that open source developers are aiding and abetting an enemy by effectively sharing technology with them. Furthermore, in addition to considering requests to merge code from a technical standpoint, one has to also consider the possibility that the requester could be subject to the influence of Huawei, in which case accepting the merge may put you at risk of stiff penalties under the IEEPA (up to $250K for accidental violations; $1M and 20 years imprisonment for willful violations).”

The beauty of open source is, well, its openness. Bunnie argues that if the government gets to decide what entities can contribute and which cannot, the freedom that underpins open source software will vanish.

Cynthia Murrell, August 9, 2019

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