November 3rd & 4th, 2023
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The United States' History with Free Software and what we can do to improve the Future

SeaGL 2020

Properly caring for and protecting citizen data requires the use of free software, but few public institutions adhere to this standard. Incidents like the breakdown of technology at this year’s democratic party caucuses in Iowa have (rightfully) made many citizens more wary of any government technology when it comes to our electoral processes. Encouraging the development and use of open source software has the potential to make technology developers more accountable and technology users more secure.

However, the government does not explicitly seek to convert software to free or see the need for doing so at most levels. In 2016, the United States instituted a source-code policy requiring 20% of code developed for or by an agency of the government to be released as open source software and be shared openly between agencies. This was a step in the right direction, but ultimately only a proposed target without actual deadlines or teeth behind it. In this talk I will examine the 2016 mandate and the impact it has had on the government. I will use this example to discuss the government’s history with proprietary technology and proponents of open source and free software within the government. I will focus on the history within the United States with notable examples of other countries provided. For example, I will discuss the Malaysian Public Sector Open Source Software Program and its success. I will finish by discussing hope for the future and what we can do to support the growth of free software in government. There are ways we can advocate for furthering the open source movement, by promoting free software at all levels of education and government and taking specific actions (call your senator!).


Amanda Sopkin

Amanda Sopkin

Amanda is a full-stack software engineer for the rentals team at Zillow working to make the process of renting better for renters and property managers. In addition to working as a software engineer, she attends hackathons as a coach for Major League Hacking to help hackers have a great experience at the events they attend. Amanda has spoken on topics in mathematics and software engineering at Pycon, Devsum Sweden, Hackcon, and various hackathons around the country. Amanda holds a degree in Mathematics and Computer Science from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.