A potential for political pressure and blackmail of officials – Microsoft’s Home Use Program in the European Parliament
After Erik Josefsson, Adviser on Internet Policies for the Greens, brought up the Microsoft “Home Use Program” in the email list of the European Parliament Free Software User’s Group (EPFSUG) (an independent group of European Parliament (EP) staffers and outside supporters) a lively debate started about the rights and wrongs of this program. What is the Home Use Program? Verbatim from the EP intranet pages:
An enterprise contract with Microsoft —which entered into force on 1 June 2011— entitles the European Parliament to the additional benefits covered by the Software Assurance (SA) Membership Program. One of these benefits is the Home Use Program (HUP), whereby the European Parliament staff members are allowed to obtain a copy of certain products from Microsoft which they are licensed to install on their home computers.
[The full text of the intranet page on the HUP is available in the EPFSUG email archive, in Erik's initial mail on the topic]
While that is common for businesses, in a political context, where the dependence on Microsoft products is already rubbing hard against supposedly independent and free legislation, this program, where staff just get something for free because they happen to work for the European Parliament (and, I presume the program also applies for staff of other EU entities) bears an especially unpleasant stench. It is not unheard of to see conference or event invitations where participants pay several thousand Euro unless they are policy officials (for a long list of recent invitations for free events that just one MEP received see here). But that every single one of the several thousand staff in the EP – which, after all, do most of the “content work” in the EP – receives a free-but-strings-attached copy of Microsoft software shouldn’t be taken lightly.
Of course the main intention of such a program is always to get staff to (a) like the product and (b) know the product. If those two things are established the staff will always oppose any change in software – e.g. to free and equally good alternatives – which would force them to make the extra effort to learn the new program. Thus the company, here Microsoft, can expect long-term business by getting the staff essentially addicted to their software. Moreover, if that company is providing staff with something free the recipients might in return be a bit more easy on the company regarding legislation or criticism.
The most obvious problem is that the parliament’s staff are working on regulations that govern the very business that is now making a gift to them. That’s a clear conflict of interest which can’t be explained away.
Additionally, there is a second dangerous aspect to the licensing terms, again Karsten:
Write a letter to your grandma on that computer: Fine. Prepare a presentation for work: Congratulations, you’ve breached the license, so you’re now violating copyright. (Though I bet that this is one user group that the BSA would hesitate to audit.) Staffers who accept this gift set themselves up for copyright violations.
As an assistant in the EP I use a privately bought laptop for my office work – mostly because the provided workstations are incredibly slow and it is nearly impossible to get other necessary software on the machine. I cannot do my work efficiently without a private computer, and I know that many other assistants complain about the same issue – but at the same time it is sometimes necessary that I have a copy of Microsoft Word or Excel. If the copy would be one licensed under the Home Use Program I would be breaching the license every single day.
If you think about it this would also be a great way to blackmail staff members. I doubt that that is actually happening or will happen anytime soon, but the mere potential that Microsoft could effectively say “listen, you used our software that you got through your workplace for work and thus broke the license – we will let this slide, if…” is for me a big no-no. Further, I think that the EP is even risking putting their staff into that position is somewhere between embarassing and grossly negligent.
I thus can only agree with Karsten:
[Members of the parliament] who want to keep their hands clean should now tell their staff, and the staff in their groups, not to accept the poisoned gift of Microsoft’s Home Use Program. They should push the administration into making available Free Software tools that staffers can use to do their work, and urge the Parliament itself to migrate to Free Software.
Category: Politics (EN) | Tags: blackmail, copyright, EP, EPFSUG, Erik Josefsson, ESFS, EU, European Parliament, European Parliament Free Software User Group, European Union, Free Software, Free Software Foundation, Free Software Foundation Europe, independence, influence, Karsten Gerloff, legislation, LibreOffice, lobbying, lobbyism, manipulation, MEP, Microsoft, Microsoft Office, Microsoft Word, officials, perks, politics, software, staff 2 comments »