Legal barrier to be removed

Dutch government encourages public services to share their software source code

Published on: 20/04/2020

The Dutch government wants the country’s public services to share as open source any software solutions that are written for or by them. “My appeal to public services is to release the source code, unless they have good reasons not to,” writes State Secretary for the Interior Raymond Knops in a letter to the Dutch parliament. “A public service that uses open source software can also be expected to actively share with society software that it develops itself.”

Publishing software source code benefits public interests including innovation, economic activity, openness and information security, and reduces the amount of money wasted, the state secretary writes. Exceptions to the new ‘open, unless’ policy include software affecting national security or public safety, or where certain working methods must be kept confidential.

The Interior Ministry and the Ministry for Economic Affairs will by early 2021 remove an existing legal barrier to software sharing from the government rules of conduct, making it clear that public services are free to share source code as open source. There is sufficient room for public services to get started, Knops writes, and the Interior Ministry will assist all public services working to release source code.

Licence to share

In the new policy, the ministry recommends choosing a suitable open source licence, pointing to the European Union Public Licence as one option. If the goal of sharing the source code is to encourage reuse and further development, the ministry advises public services to build or join a community. If openness is the goal, sharing the source code on a public repository such as GitLab could suffice.

If Dutch public services share 20 percent of their software as open source, the benefits could be more than EUR 1.1 billion, the policy says, quoting research by the consultancy Gartner. Other advantages include improved security, better code quality, interoperability, citizen participation, increased economic activity, innovation, and sustainability.

The policy document also lists costs and possible risks, and refers to the European Commission’s Digital Strategy, where “open source solutions will be preferred when equivalent in functionalities, total cost and cybersecurity”.

More information:

Letter by Minister Knops to the Parliament (in Dutch)
Annex to the letter (PDF, in Dutch)
OSOR news item