Interview Shortly after The Register learned that Richard Stallman, founder and president of the Free Software Foundation and creator of the GNU Project, had been invited to speak at Microsoft's corporate headquarters, We sent an email asking you about the apparent incongruity of advocating for the freedom of software in a company that the FSF highlighted as a malware manufacturer.
To our surprise, Stallman offered to be interviewed, in person, no less, since he would be in San Francisco on Thursday, September 12.
That was the day when Selam Gano, a mechanical engineer from XYZ Robotics and a graduate of MIT, published a publication on Stallman of medium assault to dispute, in a publication of the MIT mailing list, the applicability of the term "aggression sexual "in a description of an MIT student protest planned for Friday, September 13.
That protest was organized to seek the dismissal of senior university administrators who knew about donations made to Jeffrey Epstein, the convicted financier and sex offender who committed suicide last month while he was behind bars awaiting federal charges of sex trafficking. The description of the protest included a reference to the "pioneer" of the late AI Marvin Minsky (accused of assaulting one of Epstein's victims). "
That victim, Virginia Giuffre, said earlier that he was told to have sex with Minsky at the Epstein retreat in the US Virgin Islands. He was 17 at the time, in a place where the age of consent is 18.
Stallman's publication on the MIT mailing list argued, in a spectacularly insensitive way, that Minsky might not have been aware that Giuffre had been coerced to have sex.
"The most plausible scenario is that she appeared before him as totally willing," Stallman wrote in his publication on last Wednesday. "Assuming Epstein was coercing her, he would have had every reason to tell her to hide it from most of her associates. I have concluded from several examples of accusations inflation that it is absolutely incorrect to use the term & # 39; sexual assault & # 39; in an accusation. "
On the Internet and in news publications, this attempt to minimize the violation of a victim of the 17-year-old traffic network did not go well, and led to greater scrutiny of past emails and Online publications that made things worse: He had previously expressed skepticism about the age of consent laws and about the inaccuracy of "voluntary pedophilia," suggesting that no harm is done if a child and an adult have consensual sex together.  The Register asked Stallman if he wanted to respond to Gano's complaints about him. In an email on Friday, he said: "I care about all kinds of rights for everyone: men, women or none of the two. I would like people to read what I really wrote. The accusations caused me pain. "
That same day, he posted a note on his personal blog that said the media had misinterpreted his statements.
" The headlines say I defended Epstein, "Stallman wrote." Nothing I could be further from the truth. I called him & # 39; serial rapist & # 39; and I said I deserved to be jailed. But many people now believe that I defended it, and other inaccurate statements, and I feel real pain from what they think I said. I'm sorry for that pain. I wish I could have avoided the misunderstanding. "
And he gave up past statements about pedophilia.
He wrote:" Many years ago I published that I couldn't see anything wrong about sex between an adult and a child, if the child would I agree. Through personal conversations in recent years, I learned to understand how sex with a child can harm psychologically. This changed my opinion on the matter: I think adults should not do that. I am grateful for the conversations that allowed me to understand why. "
But the damage, self-inflicted or not, was done.
On Monday, Software Freedom Conservancy asked for his resignation." When considering other objectionable comments he has published over the years, these incidents form a pattern of behavior that is incompatible with the objectives of the free software movement, "the group said in a blog post." We call on Stallman to stop occupying positions of leadership in our movement. "
The same was done by the executive director of the GNOME Foundation, Neil McGovern, who said that Stallman's Minksy defense email was" the straw that broke the glass. "
By Monday at night, Stallman had resigned as a visiting scientist in the highly respected Laboratory of Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence (CSAIL) of MIT and, crucially, resigned as president of the Free Software Foundation, as well as its board of directors.
"I immediately quit my position at CSAIL at MIT. I do it because of the pressure on MIT and me because of a series of misunderstandings and mischaracterizations," he complained on his website.
Meanwhile, the FSF confirmed its departure in a statement: "On September 16, 2019, Richard M. Stallman, founder and president of the Free Software Foundation, resigned as president and member of its board of directors. new president, starting immediately. "
To publish or not
Which brings us to this interview, evidently the last one as leader of the Free Software movement. We have discussed what to do with this piece since Stallman's circumstances changed in recent days. A few hours after his departure from our office on Thursday, the publication of Gano & # 39; s Medium was published, and the floodgates were swept away: amid attempts by his supporters to defend him, critics opened fire on Twitter with complaints of past behavior. The anger was real.
By Monday, while we were reviewing this article, I was no longer in the FSF and MIT.
If we had fully known your past and present opinions, we would have paid attention to the red flags. If we had seen your MIT email the day before, the interview would have been quite different, deviating from its appearance at Microsoft and its points of view on software freedom.
Instead of filing the piece, or burying it in the back of the site, however, we have decided to leave it in recognition of the social consequences of freedom of expression.
In retrospect, Stallman's demanding standards for words used in conjunction with his work would have been better applied to his own statements.  Stallman, whose presentation driver speaks is amazing, had some specific prerequisites to be interviewed.
He asked if we ended up referring to the operating system he helped create, which we refer to as "GNU". "Linux" refers to the kernel, he said, and is one of the many components of the operating system in general. And in that sense, he asked that we not place this article in a category called "Linux." You can find a fairly extensive explanation of their views on this on the FSF website.
He also requested that we not connect his work as an advocate of Free Software to the "Open Source". He explained: "That is the slogan adopted in 1998 by people who reject the philosophy of the Free Software Movement. They have the right to promote their views, but we would like to partner with our views, not theirs."
Then there was the challenge of organizing the entrance to the building where the operation is based in the USA. UU. From The Register . Stallman asked not to be identified by the name of the building staff to avoid the possibility of his name ending up in a database. "Resisting the tracking of people is everyone's duty," he explained.
Meeting him in the lobby proved easier than solving how to ask the reception staff to admit a person who could not be named. Eventually, we were able to take Mister Anonymous to the office, and the following conversation took place …
The Register : Let's start by talking about your recent visit to Microsoft, a company that In the past he has shown dislike for the GNU General Public License, a company that has criticized.
Richard Stallman: First, I have always disapproved of Microsoft for making free software. It still does not free software. And I still say that it is an injustice. But it's like so many other companies that are committing the same kind of injustice. So I never hated Microsoft, especially. I never believed that Microsoft was the great Satan. I never thought that the purpose of our efforts was to defeat Microsoft, in particular, because if that had left all other proprietary software companies, it would not be the victory. Everyone is contributing to the subjugation of computer users. And our goal is to end that subjugation no matter who or what does.
Therefore, I had no special reason to refuse to speak with Microsoft. Now the next question was: was it worth it? As the executives invited me, I thought it was worth it. The worst that could happen is that they would reject what I said and achieve nothing. But given the importance of that company, I thought that if they seemed inclined to listen, I should talk with them. And I'm glad I did.
What they told me was that their main field now is business support services. And this may or may not be done ethically. But there is nothing inherently unethical in doing that business. And therefore, I thought I would make suggestions and introduce the philosophy of the Free Software movement, which I did. And I requested specific changes in their practices, changes that would help the Free Software movement.
The Registry : Did Microsoft seem receptive to your suggestions?
Richard Stallman: They seemed generally receptive. But you know, if Microsoft will change something in practice, it remains to be seen. Maybe I change some things and not others, right? That happens often. But I believe in judging every thing that a company does separately. So, if a company is doing this, which is incorrect and unfair, and this, which is useful, I prefer not to add them. If these two activities are separable in practice, in other words, if it is possible to look at each one, individually, and distinguish it from the other, if they are not linked to each other, so much that it makes no sense. do, then I do that. Because that way, I can disapprove of what is bad and approve of what is good. That's more useful, just add it to get a total for a given company.
The Register : Are there companies so hostile to the Free Software movement that you would refuse? An invitation to talk?
Richard Stallman: [Companies] has to do something to show his willingness to think about it. For example, someone said, "Well, since you're talking at Microsoft, would you like to talk at Amazon?" And I hesitated, you know, I said, "Would you have any points?" I could do it, but it wouldn't be of any use. I asked the FSF board, and nobody suggested that it would be of any use.
The Register : I saw a video in which you said: "Social inertia is the biggest obstacle to switching to free software." Are there other barriers that deserve consideration?
Richard Stallman: They are all forms of social inertia. Because if not, for social inertia, we would make free software perfectly easy to use, we would make it do everything. The problem today is that the companies that manufacture the software on mobile devices, that is, Google and Apple, for the most part, established a way of life based on non-free software. And you can run free software on some Android devices. Apple has blocked us very carefully outside the iMonsters. But even with Android devices, you really can't do so much. And it will be a huge job, although I think the Librem phone is a step forward.
But I simply refuse to use mobile devices, especially portable phones, because their movements are tracked. And due to the backdoor in the modem processor, the radio processor bit communicates with the phone's radio network, almost all mobile phones can be converted into a listening device. So I call them Stalin's dream.
The Register : So, even if the Librem phone meets all your requirements, wouldn't you want to take it?
Richard Stallman: No, it solves one of the problems, it cannot be turned remotely into a listening device because the radio processor does not speak to the microphone. And also the radio processor cannot install different software on the application processor. So, if you have a free system in the application processor, it will not be easy for the radio processor to attack it.
Basically, you should think about every mobile phone, including the one that contains an attack device, the radio processor. And on most phones, the radio processor speaks directly to the microphone, which means they can only load listening software into the radio processor and have it start listening immediately. And the radio processor, I think, is also responsible for turning it off. So, when they use the universal backdoor to turn it into a listening device, they also make it refuse to really shut down, just pretend to shut down. Most of that is locked by the Librem phone.
But what he cannot block is the fact that if he wishes to receive some kind of communication, he must say where he is. Then you are being tracked. That is a matter of the telephone network design. And I don't think a phone can fix that. So I would only charge such a thing if I almost always turned it off, at least when it came to radio communication. But then, is it useful? It is not clear to me that it is useful enough to want to bother me.
But I have an idea that could be acceptable and useful. And that is to carry a one-way pager, and anyone who wants to talk to me on the phone pages first explains what it is. And then I will decide when to reveal my location by activating yet. Could it be that it will be practical and useful enough to be worth doing? I don't know, but at least it seems acceptable.
The Register : Are there any assumptions you made when you started advocating the freedom of the software you had to review over the years?
Richard Stallman: One thing that has changed is that today, a non-free program is typically malware as well. That was not the case in 1983. In 1983, when it was discovered that a patented software product was malware, it was scandalous. It was shocking. It was news, at least in the technology press, because this was not the usual case. There was a certain level of scruples, even among proprietary software developers.
But over the years, these scruples have evaporated, as companies faced each other in terms of mistreatment of their own users. And now, almost any non-free program you run is mistreating it in some way. And this is another powerful reason to reject all non-free software. It is designed to mistreat you. Most of them, the most proprietary programs, spy on people, as far as we can see. They have DRM, they have back doors, they censor. They are designed to be addictive. They sabotage people. They are designed from programmed obsolescence. So many nasty things. If you look at gnu.org/malware, you will see a catalog of hundreds of examples.
So this makes it much more obvious that you need to get those things out of your life, that we should all organize to kick those things out of our lives. Maybe one day, we can pass laws on this. I have never proposed to ban non-free software as such. But I think that implementing DRM should be a serious crime.
The Register : There is the General Data Protection Regulation of Europe, the GDPR.
Richard Stallman: There is movement. There is attention. But the GDPR is too weak because it tries to regulate the use of databases, but that is too late. Once the data is collected in a database, it will be misused. Because there are many ways it can happen. One of them is the intentional misuse by the organization that collected the data. The GDPR makes an effort to limit that. But it is not obvious that he has real teeth.
For example, in many cities in Europe, the way you pay for parking is if you write the license plate number. Now, this is a mass surveillance system. While it can have the side effect of collecting payments, its main effect is to track everyone who drives and that is cruel. So, if the GDPR is interpreted in a way that makes those systems illegal, I will do so, I will congratulate the GDPR for having some teeth. But I don't expect that. People in Europe don't seem to expect me to do that. And if you don't do that, it's obviously inappropriate.
But then there are other ways in which data can be misused by dishonest employees. It can be a crime, but crimes are committed, you know, or there they could maintain a lax security and filter the data. And someone else can use it badly. Or crackers can enter the site and steal the data.
By the way, please don't call them hackers. That is offensive to us, hackers. Hacking is playful intelligence. When it comes to breaking computer security, call that cracking. Anyway, then there is another way in which the state can take that data. Now, this is increasingly common throughout the world as countries clear the way for the state, in the name of security, to take each and every database of personal data. This is one of the horrible things that the United States did in the Pat-Riot Act.
[Yes, Stallman purposefully pronounces “Patriot” in this context as two distinct words.]
And I warned about this before it was approved. On September 11, 2001, it took me a couple of hours to recognize what the next objective would be: the freedom of the Americans. And that is exactly what happened. Congress pointed to the freedom of Americans. And, of course, W [President George W. Bush] was happy to attack that. So now we have to get rid of him, more or less. We have especially the part of now the national security letters. We have a system for the alleged judicial review of surveillance plans. And the FISA court said it could not review these plans … indeed, that intelligence agencies cheated him so much and kept him in the dark, that [the court] could not say if they were doing something unconstitutional. So it was a recipe to violate our rights.
The Register : That brings me to my next question: how does the decrease in civic and political freedom worldwide affect free software? ? Does it make the mission of the Free Software Foundation more challenging?
Richard Stallman: It can be. If the only place where you have freedom is inside your computer, you are not living a life and freedom. You know, I focus my efforts on the Free Software movement, because that's the problem I'm focusing on, someone has to do it. Many people have to do it, but that does not reduce the importance of all the other theaters of this battle in which we are defending our freedom, and others, other people and other organizations take the initiative. And I support Sanders for the president or Warren. And I hope, I hope others do too, because they propose changes large enough to restore democracy. They want to restore democracy, and the so-called centrist democrats are content to let the plutocracy continue.
We know that since the 1990s, public opinion is essentially disconnected from political decisions. This is probably the reason why so many Americans feel that politics is useless, because it has been useless. But we can change that if we choose enough people who insist on changing it. And we have the opportunity to try to do that. If we don't do that, if we don't limit mass surveillance systems, which are spreading everywhere, you know, Sanders is in favor of banning the use of facial recognition by the government. Well, that is the first step we have to take regarding facial recognition. But we have a ban on the private use of facial recognition, except in very limited circumstances with those lists of narrowly specified persons. Otherwise, it will only result in a total privatized follow-up of all.
The Register : That is already happening to some extent with the Amazon Ring police association.
Richard Stallman: I have friends who discovered a bell on the street across the street, and they are disturbed by the vigilance of the people who come to visit them. Now, it seems to me that there could be a law that says that if you want to configure one of those video doorbells, you must place a screen so that you cannot see everyone go through the street, you can only see people approaching the doorbell of your door.
The Register : What is the status of the GNU GPL? Are you still addressing your software freedom requirements?
Richard Stallman: I don't see the need to review version three of GPL. It can happen someday. But so far, there is no problem worth making a new version. But nothing is perfect. And situations change. The reasons for the changes in the GPL are of two types. One is the problems that I was not able to pay attention to, for versions one and two, and the changes in the situation, laws and practices. To give a simple example: in 1991, when I published version two of GPL, I didn't imagine anything like BitTorrent. But in BitTorrent, when you are receiving, you are also transmitting. So, what happened is if you use BitTorrent to download a binary from a program covered by the GPL. Well, with version two of GPL, you are violating the GPL because you are redistributing that binary.
But there are conditions on how to redistribute a binary. You have to offer the source code. And you're probably not doing that, you're just looking for binaries. Because binaries are all you want to get at that moment. That violates version two of GPL, but obviously, it should be allowed. So, in version three of GPO, there is a change to allow it. He says that if you are using a system to get a binary, and the nature of that system is that it redistributes the same things you are downloading, and that is the only way you distribute the binaries, that's fine. Who created the tar file and has to make the source code available. But you don't have to do it yourself.
The Register : Does machine learning and AI present a different challenge to software freedom than traditional software?
Richard Stallman: They are no different. If someone launches a binary program that does some type of AI technique, right? Well, that is the same injustice as any other non-free program. It takes away the freedom of the users, imposes them, puts them under the power of the program owner. But if you are looking for new problems that are specifically due to AI, I don't think there is one.
I believe that AI raises a tremendously important political issue, since it will enhance power disparities. Companies that use data to exercise power over society, can get a lot from AI. You can use it in your databases on people to learn to discover even more about these people, which is an even more reason why we should not allow these databases to be collected. This is how we really should solve the problem, go beyond the GDPR. Instead of addressing the problem at the level of regulation of the use of databases, say that we will not allow these databases to be collected. Systems should not be designed to systematically collect personal data of any kind.
The Register : Still find time to write code?
Richard Stallman: Oh, no, I don't try. I enjoyed programming 30 years ago when I was good at it. But I am 66 years old. There is no reason to think that I could be so good at it now. My memory for all kinds of details of a great code and why I did this and that, would not be the same. But in any case, there are many other people who are doing it. And so, in the 1990s, I involuntarily promoted myself to management. Basically, I recognized that that was what I had to be doing. For that it was necessary more than to write the code.
The Register : What are some of the current software projects, either with the Free Software Foundation or elsewhere, that interest you more at this time?
Richard Stallman: Well, one interesting thing is Guix, which is our GNU / Linux distribution, which aims to be a technical advance in many ways. And there are other distributions where you get the sources and build them. However, this is more advanced, he uses Scheme as the basis for much of what he does. That is something that I wanted GNU to do since before it started, but now maybe we will.
Another thing that I think is tremendously important is the GNU Taler, which is an anonymous payment system designed to buy things in stores. So it is not a cryptocurrency. Payments are denominated in any currency that is convenient, I suppose in the US. UU., It would be mainly dollars. And you buy your Taler tokens from something called mint, it's not a mint owned by the government, it's an organization that will sell you Taler tokens. It uses the technique of blind signature of David Chaum.
So you end up with signed Taler tokens, but the bank doesn't know what tokens you signed, and you use them to pay and the merchant takes the tokens and transaction information to the bank to receive the payment. You can't spend Taler tokens again, you get if you're a merchant. All you can do is take them to get money. And in this way, Taler does not encourage tax evasion. That is important for Taler developers and for me. So we believe it is better than cryptocurrencies in many ways.
The Register : What is the most important challenge in defending software freedom today?
Richard Stallman: I concentrate on teaching people the values of freedom in computer science, because if you understand that, every piece of non-free software that someone tries to make you run will bother you, and you'll want to escape . He will look for ways to do the job to escape. But if you don't understand those things, if you don't understand the point, well, you could cooperate and contribute in some way, but it won't reinforce our defense of freedom. There are many contributors to free software who disagree with the philosophy of free software in the least. They probably talk about "open source." That is the term coined by people who rejected our values, to disconnect our practical work from our values. And they are more likely to use push-over licenses, rather than copyleft licenses. Weak, push-over licenses are free licenses, make the software free, but foolishly allow you to put that code in non-free programs.
The Register : Does the Free Software community need to make more litigation to protect against GPL abuse?
Richard Stallman: Yes, and no. Yes we sue a company once. And agreed to stop –
The Registry : Cisco?
Richard Stallman: Yes. We agreed not to say what we agreed. But we solved the problem. And we could do that again if we have to.
The Registry : But isn't it a particularly fruitful way to advance your goals?
Richard Stallman: Well, sometimes it is. No estoy de acuerdo con las personas que piensan que hay algo malo en demandar a los infractores de la GPL. Cuando se requiera, ve a ello. Requiere algunos recursos. Sería bueno tener un fondo bien dotado para hacer esto. Pero nuestro enfoque para hacer cumplir la GPL … lo principal que queremos es que el infractor comience a respetar los derechos de los usuarios. Después de todo, para eso sirve el copyleft. Es un requisito legal para que los revendedores respeten la libertad de los usuarios. La libertad de los usuarios es de lo que se trata.
The Register : ¿Hay algo que no hayamos mencionado que quisiera mencionar en particular?
Richard Stallman: Una cosa es que, si quieres que te paguen por desarrollar software libre, hay un área gigantesca de software, que creo que es en realidad la mayoría del desarrollo de software pago, que es el desarrollo personalizado software destinado a ser utilizado y no lanzado. Y en esa área, si insiste en entregar su código al cliente bajo una licencia gratuita, bueno, no creo que eso le impida obtener el trabajo. Quiero decir, cualquiera que desarrolle un programa para clientes y no permita que los clientes tengan las cuatro libertades, se está aprovechando de ellos. Y el cliente que acepta eso está siendo engañado.
El Gobierno de Canadá es un ejemplo de un cliente que fue engañado. Desarrolló un programa, creo que se llama Phoenix, para calcular y escribir los cheques a sus empleados, está lleno de errores, no pueden corregir los errores allí, no tienen permitido arreglarlo. El gobierno no tiene permitido reparar estos errores, no tiene el código fuente, no tiene ningún control. Y la compañía que lo desarrolló aparentemente no está arreglando estos errores. Y alguien está desarrollando un reemplazo gratuito, que también es un gran avance tecnológico, porque tiene una base de datos de las reglas por las cuales se calcula el pago y descubre cómo combinar esas reglas.
Entonces esto demuestra cómo si un cliente para el desarrollo de algún software personalizado que vaya a utilizar, debe insistir en que lo obtenga como software libre. Debe estar en el contrato, que a menos que veamos que todo el código es gratuito, y también se ejecuta en un sistema gratuito, no se le pagará. ®