Mozilla cautions India's national open digital plan is 'open-washing'

Internet Society also weighs in with worries about vague definition of 'open'

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Mozilla has cautioned that the Indian government's plan to develop a national GovTech framework risks "open-washing".

The National Open Digital Ecosystem (NODE) plan was launched in March 2020 and proposed a set of open standards that the government hopes will "inspire and guide innovators within the government and in the private sector, to come together to radically improve the lives of citizens, and that position India as a trailblazer in 'GovTech' thinking on a global stage."

India's Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (Meity) released a white paper describing the framework and called for comments on its ideas.

Mozilla put up its hand to comment and the organisation's response [PDF] welcomed the move to implement an open framework, but said that the government's proposal "leaves much to be elucidated on both the need and manner of implementation of such ecosystems before a national strategy can be finalised."

The organisation also warned that the Indian government's proposal leaves the door open for 'open-washing'. "The white paper leaves the definition of 'open' vague and at at the complete discretion of individual implementers," the organisation wrote.

"Consequently, implementers are not required to adhere to any minimum baseline of 'open.' This risks empowering private parties to develop closed ecosystems that are only open in appearance while being closed in practice."

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Mozilla recommends that Meity establish "a clear minimum baselines for 'openness', guided by internationally accepted best practices and the Indian government's own policies. "Projects should be called 'open' only if they satisfy this baseline," Mozilla recommends.

It also recommends that the strategy "explicitly recommend that strong data protection law with an independent data protection authority be enacted before any NODE project is implemented" and that all outreach be transparent, accountable, and inclusive.

The Internet Society's Delhi Chapter echoed Mozilla's warnings, calling for "more details on the implementation strategy of the NODE, such as level of standardisation across nodes, ensuring security, the scope of public-private partnership, ownership rights, standards and levels of access and data sharing".

The foundation recommended that the framework follow "globally accepted definitions of Free and Open Source Software and refrain from coming up with confusing terminology". It added that all data collected and used under the framework should be "in line with the proposed legislation on Personal Data Protection" and that it would be better "to wait for the law to be enacted before going ahead with the development of NODEs."

NASSCOM, the Indian IT industry's lobby group, said that although the platforms should be open sourced, the components or software used to build them need not be. "We recommend that open source should be preferred, but not mandated [because it] will prevent the problem of vendor lock-in," it said. ®

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