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Why Public and Private Records Keeping Systems Should Use Free Software.

Posted in Action, America, Antitrust, Database, Finance, Free/Libre Software, Identity Management, Law at 10:10 pm by Guest Editorial Team

Institutions which value their customer’s privacy should only use free software for their day to day business and record keeping. The rapacious behavior of banks, insurance companies and marketing firms has received a great deal of attention, and sane countries are making data privacy laws but the issue of non free software is seldom raised. Medical records are a particularly sensitive area where morals and ethics should trump profit. Ethical medical practitioners know that the records they create belong to the patient and that those records must be guarded and only surrendered to the patient or other health care professionals serving the patient. Bankers, insurance companies and other companies should be forced by law to abide by similar rules but no one can actually comply if they use propitiatory software which hides operations from users.

The US is in the midst of an insurance industry push towards electronic medical records. Tax breaks and other incentives have been offered to doctors who make the move to electronic records keeping. This will be good if adequate protections are in place.

The privacy of electronic records is supposed to be protected by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, but there are obvious and gaping problems. Frequently raised concerns include nosy clerks especially at satellite institutions like pharmacies, unauthorized remote intrusion, court orders and a lack of action by regulators who take complaints. Mostly overlooked is the fact that software owners like Microsoft will have unfettered access to any medical record that any Windows system has access to. Google recently proved that Microsoft was spying on ordinary users, so the threat is no longer a theoretical matter of the company exercising the broad rights to snoop they gave themselves in their EULAs a decade ago [2] with or without your permission.

Every business and government office that uses non free software should realize this threat and end it by migrating to free software. Moving to free software won’t protect institutions from malicious clerks and other commonly mentioned problems but it is the only solution to unauthorized access to records by software owners. That access and power is at the heart of the bad deal propitiatory software has always offered but is exposed in an ugly way when all of our records are electronic and computers must be on a network to be considered useful.

Businesses that do not move out of customer and self interest should be forced by law. Customers and citizens concerned about their privacy should be protected. Because no such privacy can be guaranteed by propitiatory software, no propitiatory software should be allowed to operate on customer business records. Only software with the four software freedoms should be allowed.

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  1. Michael said,

    September 17, 2011 at 8:39 am


    “Mostly overlooked is the fact that software owners like Microsoft will have unfettered access to any medical record that any Windows system has access to.”

    No. Not even close.

    Instead of pushing *my* favored solution on people, I believe people should have choice. i think choice is a great thing.

    twitter Reply:

    You have not addressed the problem which is that non free software gives it’s owners power that no one should have. Microsoft’s ability to snoop on users of their software is well established. How is that acceptable on systems that contain sensitive records?

    Even if that’s OK with you and your records, it’s not OK with me so you can’t use that software to keep my records. You might have made an informed choice for yourself, but you can’t force your apathy on others. People who value their privacy will eventually reach this conclusion and the law must follow.

    Michael Reply:

    Please point to the law that allows MS to have access to my medical records. If there is such a law I certainly do not approve – but I suspect this is just FUD.

    JackAbear Reply:

    The law is that if you accept by clicking the box you are accepting whatever slippery little words have been written in towards the end of the EULA and they automatically then become legal …. most usually quit reading after a couple of paragraphs, for example:

    1- I think that if anyone carefully reads the EULA before installing “Malicious Software Removal Tool” they will realize that clicking “I accept” gives a legal open back-door into your PC. But they do mention that your identity will not be compromised and the information they gather will not be used to identify you. Comforting isn’t it?….not to me!

    2- Has anyone out there EVER caught malwhare of any kind with malicious software removal tool… not very likely!
    yet there is an update every month. No one questions this?

    3- Try deleting MRT.exe from system 32, then when presented with the update try finding and checking the box “do not show this update again”(Box is not always showing, gotta be slick and clever here)
    you will find that whether you are using XP, XP64, vista or win 7 32/64, malicious software removal tool keeps showing up as an update needed warning, day after day regardless of the check box.

    4-My PC does work much better without it, as there is no longer that steady trickling of traffic in and out when I’m connected but not using any browser (just a few bites every few seconds, but that was very annoying to me.) Problem is all gone now! ( The EULA does not speak of this so I had to spend a couple of years(on and off) trying to figure out what was leaking out of my computer.
    Also, I didn’t even accept the Eula for MRT.exe in win 7…so why is it trying to install anyway?
    MY explanation is that it is possibly a front for illicit activity!!
    People should ask for their money back when the EULA is unacceptable. We should boycott these propitiatory softwares until they change their EULA to exclude snooping”…But better still, use open source.
    It punishes them right where it hurts!…. at the greed!

    Michael Reply:

    I’m sorry… what law was that again?


    Oh. You did not point to one.

    No: MS has no legal access to my medical records nor yours. This is just complete FUD.

    JackAbear Reply:

    Ok! agreed,
    there is certainly no law in the books in the sense that you are implying, but there is a binding contract most often allowing the software company to snoop, when you accept EULA as written.
    One would have to read and understand the EULA first in order to realize this of course.
    I just meant that a signed contract makes whatever is written within legal, even if it wasn’t read by you.
    But then, isn’t it “common LAW” that a signed contract is normaly legal and binding for both parties?
    Anyway I’m not a lawyer, just an old Jazz musicain, calling it the way I see it! And I though the article above was great and to the point

    Michael Reply:

    The article falsely claimed MS has a legal right to my medical records and yours.

    Complete FUD.

  2. twitter said,

    September 20, 2011 at 9:32 am


    Glen Moody covers the flip side of this issue, institutional transparency.

    Dr. Roy Schestowitz Reply:

    Glyn is a gold mine of knowledge in this area. Thanks for the link to his thoughts.

    twitter Reply:

    I think people are starting to understand the power non free software has over them. Software’s owners are becoming more blatant in their EULA demands and attempt to normalize a complete lack of privacy but it’s not working. Even the “Open Source” crowd is starting to understand software in terms of power relationships rather than performance and partial transparency. Here’s an interesting story about OnStar where the vehicle owner wonders if OnStar will keep their word and quit spying.

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