PhD thesis points out constitutional obligation to vendor-neutral interoperability
Germany’s constitution makes the use of vendor-neutral ICT standards mandatory, according to the PhD thesis of Felix Greve, a German lawyer. The constitution demands minimum requirements for interoperability standards, Greve argues. The current lack of interoperability rules are a major barrier to the country’s uptake of free and open source software, in public administration and elsewhere.
According to Greve, the constitution stipulates that market barriers such as proprietary specifications must be prevented.
Greve, a German lawyer specialised in IT-law, says that the country’s current approach to interoperability standards - such as SAGA - will not effectively influence the monopolised market sectors. The SAGA specifications and methods for public administration software systems will not loosen the stranglehold of established proprietary specifications, because these address only federal governmental services. “Instead of solving the interoperability problem on the level of the telecommunication infrastructure, the government puts to question its individual communication offer.”
The German constitution obliges the Federal legislator to regulate the telecom market, Greve explains. The rules are to give competitors access opportunities, he says, “and this applies to the entire market sector of modern telecommunication; the complete process of information transmission”. “This means that market barriers such as proprietary specifications must be prevented”, Greve says, “This means vendor independent interoperability standards must be enforced.”
Greve published his dissertation in July.
The lawyer points out that the country currently depends on vendor-specific specifications. “Without the implementation of open standards, interoperability will continue to suffer”, Greve says. Vendor specific file formats will hinder eGovernment services, prevent paperless office programmes and impede electronic legal transactions. "Such services have been promised for decades", says Greve, "but interoperability barriers still have not been removed.”
IT vendor lock-in is a problem especially for eGovernment services, the lawyer writes. Here, the use of open standards is a prerequisite and socially prudent. Yet such services also aim to reach as many citizens as possible, driving them towards the use of established vendor specific specification, or at best to implement a dual solution. “A solution that supports both the dominant vendor’s technology and open standards, is in many cases neither expedient nor sustainable”, he says.
According to Greve, his dissertation is one of the few that looks at the topic of open standards from a legal point of view. “My thesis describes the minimum requirements for fulfilling the state’s responsibility for the telecommunication sector”, Greve says. His findings might be applicable in most EU Member States, he says, as Germany’s telecom law is greatly influenced by European rules and regulations.