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Friday, July 06, 2007

FCC: Open Source Idiots

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is apparently both ignorant about open source software and distrustful of the market's ability to determine the efficacy of new products.

The FCC is set to issue new rules governing "smart" radios -- the next generation of mobile technology that can receive signals from cellphones, broadband, radio and TV stations. While the radios may be smart, the regulators are not ... at least when it comes to open source.

As the FCC puts it, "a system that is wholly dependent on open-source elements will have a high burden to demonstrate that it is sufficiently secure to warrant authorization as a software-defined radio."

The FCC has swallowed the stale FUD (fear, uncertainty, doubt) about open source and will rule that smart radios using open source software are inherently less secure. This is at odds with the opinions of tech security experts. Even the industry association representing telecom giants like Motorola and AT&T disagrees, and urged the FCC to rethink its position.

By endorsing a "security through obscurity" approach to software, the FCC ignores the past decade of software development and the judgment of federal agencies intimately committed to security (like the Pentagon and NSA) that use open source in an increasing number of security sensitive areas.

Unfortunately, the combined determination of security experts, industry engineers, and market testing is not enough for the FCC. Its new rules will only delay the arrival of innovative, new products in the market without any assurance that security will be improved.

At least the FCC did not ban open source in smart radios outright.

If only the FCC would follow some good, old fashioned wisdom: Don't just do something, stand there.

Categories: opensource, FCC

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