Open software activists urge politicians to throw off digital shackles

Leading international figures receive an unusual gift

What do Mitt Romney, the Pope, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and actress-turned-politician Glenda Jackson have in common? Answer: they were all sent handcuffs by free-software activists in the past month.

European Union Digital Agenda Commissioner Neelie Kroes, German foreign minister Guido Westerwelle and former British Local Government Minister Hazel Blears were also among the 100 individuals to receive the handcuffs as part of a campaign to raise awareness about the dangers of vendor tie-in.

The Free Software Foundation Europe (FSFE) has asked the public to nominate politicians who could do more to promote open standards.

In the European Union, an open standard is one that is publicly available with no fees for use. It must be permissible to all to copy, distribute and use freely. However, the definition varies from country to country. "Open standards are a basic condition for freedom and choice in software; ensuring the freedom to access data and the freedom to build free software to read and write information," according to the FSFE.

Kroes was particularly pleased with her handcuffs, showing them off during a presentation in Lyon last week. "We must protect the openness of the Web and rid it of any digital handcuffs," she said. The European Commission is working on guidelines to make it easier for public authorities to use open standards, she said.

Asked whether the Pope was a particular proponent of vendor tie-in, the FSFE replied in an email that some activists are not happy with the Catholic Church's record on free software and open standards.

There are some Catholics who think the church should think more about "ethical" software, continued the FSFE spokesman.

Follow Jennifer on Twitter at @BrusselsGeek or email tips and comments to jennifer_baker@idg.com.

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Jennifer Baker

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