The Bulgarian government is to require all new custom-built software made for the public sector to be licensed as open source, under a new legal amendment.
The move lends support to a drive toward open source that some say would provide widespread benefits to the public sector, reducing costs, freeing agencies from being locked into any particular vendor, and improving code security.
Bulgaria’s parliament voted to accept amendment 58a of the country’s Electronic Governance Act, which states that public sector software must “meet the criteria for open source software”.
The move “means that whatever custom software the government procures will be visible and accessible to everyone,” said Bozhidar Bozhanov, advisor to the country’s deputy prime minister, in a blog post. “After all, it’s paid for by tax-payers’ money and they should both be able to see it and benefit from it.”
He said that in the past numerous security bugs were found in government websites that went unpatched because the government no longer had a contract with the company that had provided the software.
“With opening the source we hope to reduce those incidents, and to detect bad information security practices in the development process, rather than when it’s too late,” Bozhanov wrote.
A new government agency is to be formed to enforce the law and setting up a public repository for the code, but Bozhanov said developers should insist that the law is enforced.
“Some companies will surely try to circumvent it,” he wrote. “But in general, I think this is a good step for better government software and less abandonware and I hope other countries follow our somewhat ‘radical’ approach of putting it in the law.”
The British government made a commitment in 2011 to create a level playing field for open source software and impose compulsory open standards, but a freedom of information request found that most government departments still spent the lion’s share of their IT budgets on software from big-name vendors, such as Microsoft and Oracle, rather than seeking cheaper open source alternatives.
A computing expert said at the time that the government’s public statements on open source were a “farce”.
The government’s open source announcement was part of a computing cost-cutting strategy intended to save public funds and encourage small business innovation.
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