Measures Governments Can Use to Promote Free Software

And why it is their duty to do so

by Richard Stallman

This article suggests policies for a strong and firm effort to promote free software within the state, and to lead the rest of the country towards software freedom.

The mission of the state is to organize society for the freedom and well-being of the people. One aspect of this mission, in the computing field, is to encourage users to adopt free software: software that respects the users' freedom. A proprietary (non-free) program tramples the freedom of those that use it; it is a social problem that the state should work to eradicate.

The state needs to insist on free software in its own computing for the sake of its computational sovereignty (the state's control over its own computing). All users deserve control over their computing, but the state has a responsibility to the people to maintain control over the computing it does on their behalf. Most government activities now depend on computing, and its control over those activities depends on its control over that computing. Losing this control in an agency whose mission is critical undermines national security.

Moving state agencies to free software can also provide secondary benefits, such as saving money and encouraging local software support businesses.

In this text, “state entities” refers to all levels of government, and means public agencies including schools, public-private partnerships, largely state-funded activities such as charter schools, and “private” corporations controlled by the state or established with special privileges or functions by the state.


The most important policy concerns education, since that shapes the future of the country:

The State and the Public

Also crucial are state policies that influence what software individuals and organizations use:

Computational Sovereignty

Several policies affect the computational sovereignty of the state. State entities must maintain control over their computing, not cede control to private hands. These points apply to all computers, including smartphones.

Computational Sovereignty II

The computational sovereignty (and security) of the state includes control over the computers that do the state's work. This requires avoiding Service as a Software Substitute, unless the service is run by a state agency under the same branch of government, as well as other practices that diminish the state control over its computing. Therefore,

Influence Development

State policy affects free and nonfree software development:


Freedom should not imply e-waste:

Technological neutrality

With the measures in this article, the state can recover control over its computing, and lead the country's citizens, businesses and organizations towards control over their computing. However, some object on the grounds that this would violate the “principle” of technological neutrality.

The idea of technological neutrality is that the state should not impose arbitrary preferences on technical choices. Whether that is a valid principle is disputable, but it is limited in any case to issues that are merely technical. The measures advocated here address issues of ethical, social and political importance, so they are outside the scope of technological neutrality. Only those who wish to subjugate a country would suggest that its government be “neutral” about its sovereignty or its citizens' freedom.