Given the media attention he gets in other areas, it may come as a surprise that Nandor Tanczos is the Green Party’s IT spokesperson. But it will come as no surprise that the Greens are big backers of open source software.
Using language that the Greens are famous for, Tanczos sees a future that many hard-nosed IT people might applaud.
“There has to be the government commitment to the philosophy underpinning open source software running through the education system, through government purchasing, and then we start to see a vibrant development of an open source community. That has the potential to restore the feeling that we share this planet. That is the way of the future.”
Parliament-junkies would know that the MP has recently engaged in debates on government software projects, pointing to the cost-effectiveness, stability and security that open source software can confer.
To put it frankly, he feels he often gets the brush-off.
“During the financial reviews, where there are a number of computing developments, I have asked what consideration have they given to open source and I have received replies which are not always very helpful,” he says.
“The replies I get are ‘we looked at it but it wasn’t suitable for these reasons’. For example, if you look at [a recent Waitakere council IT decision costing $1 million in licences] the review confirmed the decision to upgrade the Windows platform as the most appropriate form of action in terms of business functionality and TCO. These are the kind of brush-off words that are used to make it sound like they’ve given it due consideration, and the impression I get is that that’s not the case at all.
“I don’t know the details of where that advice has come from, but it does seem a fairly perfunctory kind of dismissal. In government there is an awareness that [open source] exists and I think there is an awareness that they are supposed to look at it on an equal footing, but I don’t think that actually happens in reality because there is a lack of real awareness about what open source is.”
This may be changing, if discussion filters through to the executive arm of parliament from events such as the recent Govis gathering of government IS managers on open source.
So how does central government foster awareness of IT issues?
“I think there is a movement in government to make more resources available online,” says Tanczos. “That is something we very much support.”
The Greens need to shape policy more, he accepts. Privacy is a prime area of concern, particularly such legislative moves as amendments to the Crimes Act allowing police and security services to tap into email on production of an appropriate warrant.
“Privacy is one of the areas where we have the least influence,” he admits. “We have a policy that we don’t trade across issues, so privacy legislation is one area where we do have great difficulty making headway.”
But he says it’s an area in which Keith Locke has put a lot of effort.
“He has been very critical of the legislation forcing ISPs to facilitate email snooping.”
Locke pushed for regular audits of the warrants but was rebuffed. Tanczos worries authorities are being given more power without adequate checks in place.
“As with all security legislation, the lack of government oversight is of great concern. [September 11] is being used as an excuse to bring in legislation which is highly questionable.”
The Greens, he says, are doing more than just talking about allowing for choice.
“We’re in the process of developing policy, both in terms of working out a position on government procurement, and also in terms of the Green Party ‘walking the talk’, so people are working to get our whole network running on open source. We’ve had our election website on open source software.”