The Green/EFA Group in the European Parliament "is reaching out to the Free Software community", in order to achieve trustworthy email encryption, the group announced this weekend. The political block objects to the mass surveillance by companies and governments, as disclosed the past year by Edward Snowden, a former contractor at the US' National Security Agency. The group is starting a test with laptop computers running a tailored version of the Debian GNU/Linux distribution.
The Green/EFA Group will be supported by volunteers of the Debian community. The European Parliament's IT services department, DG ITEC, is cooperating in the project.
Announcing the 'laptop project' on 28 December, MEP Rebecca Harms, co-president of the Greens/EFA group, in a statement described pervasive surveillance as 'pollution of the digital environment'. "Thanks to Snowden we are beginning to understand the full scope of what it means to live in a digital environment polluted by pervasive surveillance. Commercial and governmental surveillance is undermining trust in our democratic institutions and corrupts the very fabric of democracy. This is now a global problem of such scale that each individual effort will fail, yet without taking small concrete steps from accepting where we are, no progress is possible."
According to the Danish IT consultant Jonas Smedegaard, one of the Debian volunteers involved, the laptops will be configured so that they can be used specifically to secure email communication. "Surfing or writing documents is not the aim of the project. We will carefully teach the MEPs how to use encryption to secure their emails." For this he will be combining the cryptographic software tools provided by GnuPG and email client Icedove (a version of Mozilla Thunderbird).
Smedegaard says that the EP's proprietary email solution cannot offer trustworthy encryption. "The proprietary software used in the EP can't secure trust in their email conversations."
The IT consultant is the lead developer of DebianParl, a project to tailor the Debian free software distribution specifically for use in parliaments. The project is about selecting relevant open source tools and preparing the configuration of systems. "The Green/EFA laptop project in its turn will be the first of the DebianParl profiles. We're going to put together all the relevant pieces, and tweak them so that the users at the EP do not have to make complex technical decisions."