RMS Trashes the Tube

Free Software Foundation founder Richard Stallman is no stranger to controversy, and probably never will be. He grabbed himself a fresh dose of it on Monday, attacking London's famed Underground over the potential for government tracking of citizens via the smartcard season pass.

The smartcard, called Oyster, utilizes Linux and other Open Source software for it's payment and operations systems, a decision that one would expect to be commended by the Open Source community. However, Mr. Stallman believes the cards, which operate via RFID, can be used by the "surveillance-mad government of the UK" to track passengers wherever they might go. The cards themselves are anonymous, however, online payments and automatic credit card billing link the pass to ones identity, and the prospect of knowing where one does their shopping is apparently irresistible to Her Majesty. Involving Open Source software — which by design is intended for free use by anyone — in such a nefarious plot is apparently unforgivable, prompting the present tizzy.

Amongst his advice for ditching MI-5 at the platform includes paying in cash and switching out pre-paid cards on a regular — but presumably not discernible — basis, as well as wrapping them in tinfoil when not in use, to prevent surreptitious scanning. We suggest a tinfoil hat and magnetic anti-abduction boots to complete the ensemble — canned food, cache of automatic weapons, and piles of separatist literature being optional.

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Justin Ryan is a Contributing Editor for Linux Journal.

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Please don't ridicule RMS on a valid concern

DonaldRitchey's picture

RMS may be many things, but he is not a "needless" alarmist. Anyone who advocates an unpopular viewpoint in front of a proven surveilance-mad government has a concern about personal privacy and unwarrented (in both meanings of the word) government tracking. Both the British and American governments have a history of using intelligence organizations to track dissidents and people who have opposing viewpoints to try to catch them out in some innocuous, but embarassing, behavior to discredit them and their beliefs (e.g., Martin Luther King in the 1960 as the most egregious example).

Free software advocates may be particularly vulnerable to this surveillance, given the close association of Microsoft with both the British government (the Windows-only media player at the BBC and proven biases toward Microsoft in many government ministries) and the the US executive branch (the US State department's criticism of EU anti-monopoly measures and the surrender of the Justice department on the Microsoft antitrust trial and its follow-ups, for examples). Microsoft may try (and probably has tried) to use its hole-card cozy relationships with those governments (and others) to protect its business model and profits.

Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean that they aren't out to get you.