Closed-Open Source
I've noticed a growing trend with government projects claiming to be open source but then restricting access to source code and binaries. The US government is in an interesting space because technically all of the source code it produces is in the public domain. Of course, being FOIAable and actually running software in a transparent, open, collaborative manner are two different things.

The fact that the US government is moving toward open source is a good thing, but a few sites are troubling me. For example, ForgeMil, the DoD installation of sourceforge, but access "requires a valid DoD Common Access Card (CAC) or a PKI certificate issues by a DoD approved External Certificate Authority (ECA)." This doesn't sound very open to me. Why place these restrictions on viewing "open source" source.

Also, there's CONNECT, the "open source software gateway that connects an organization's Heath IT systems to the Nationwide Health Information Network." It is excellent, that the new administration (and the previous administration) are developing open standards for HeathIT but why should CONNECT force you to register and be approved before you can view their source code.

I think projects really need to review the Open Source Definition before they jump on the open source bandwagon. There are many shining examples of open source projects within the US governemnt (caBIG, Epi-Info, SELinux).

Open source in government projects allows collaboration across federal, state and local levels and also allows for immediate use by third world nations. But if it is open source in name only, not in practice this removes a lot of the value that transparency provides.

Update 2009.7.14: As of NHIN CONNECT's 2.1 release on July 7th, you can now download the source code without registering as a giant zip. This is an improvement, but I still can't view the code repository without registering.


Technical and personal notes from Brian Lee, technologist/enterprise architect/software developer/soa guy.

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Name: Brian Lee
Location: Atlanta, Georgia, United States


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