Castex circular: creation of a free software and digital commons mission at DINUM

Jean Castex on July 15, 2020. Photo: Florian David / Wikimedia Commons / CC by-sa

Prime Minister Jean Castex issued a circular, dated April 27, 2021 (PDF on the Public Actors website, the circular is not yet in the Official Journal), on “public policy on data, algorithms and source codes “. As the title suggests, it is largely about open data policy.

“Reinforcement” of the use of free software

Jean Castex, who confirms his announcement in early February, quotes the report by deputy Eric Bothorel “submitted in December 2020 [qui] underlined the need to redouble our efforts in a context of increasing digital transformation of our societies.

In this context, as I made the commitment on the occasion of the interministerial committee for public transformation of February 5, 2021, I would like the government to have a renewed ambition in terms of operation, openness and circulation. data, algorithms and public source codes for the benefit of users, researchers, innovators and all of our fellow citizens. ”

“This renewed ambition also implies a strengthening of the openness of source codes and public algorithms, as well as the use of free and open software (…).”

“A mission dedicated to the coordination and interministerial promotion of free software and digital commons will be set up within DINUM [Direction interministérielle du numérique] and will create the interministerial portal. Your administrations will be able to rely on this mission, as well as on the National Agency for the Security of Information Systems [ANSSI] for cybersecurity issues, to support them in opening up their algorithms and their source codes. ”

What real resources will this mission have?

(Very) slowly, but surely? April reacted by seeing in this circular “a first step in the right direction”.

“The circular specifies that the ambition of this public policy implies ‘a strengthening of the openness of source codes and public algorithms, as well as the use of free and open software’. A statement with which it is difficult to disagree… but which was already the ambition of a 2012 circular from Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault on ‘the proper use of free software in administrations’. Since then, there does not seem to have been a break in terms of practices in the information systems departments of administrations, at least not in a systemic way, nor as a result of the law for a digital Republic of 2016.

April therefore recalls the need for a strong political and normative principle: the priority to free software. A priority which must guide the action of administrations and serve as a pillar for a global strategy on the use, publication and contribution to free software. ”

As for the future mission around the Free, “such a mission will not be able to produce useful effects without dedicated resources, particularly human resources. The parliamentary report [Bothorel] also recommended that the mission ‘could be made up, for example, of a manager and two to three project managers (3 to 4 FTE)’ (FTE = full-time equivalent). The formalization of the creation of this mission is therefore a good omen, but it will be necessary to be particularly vigilant as to the means actually granted and to ensure that it is not a simple new competence attributed by decree to DINUM. at constant means, otherwise the stated ambition will remain a dead letter.

April also sees the announcement of the setting up of a site, implemented by the aforementioned mission, as an encouraging sign. Provided of course, as April called it during the work of the Bothorel mission, that it is a real public software forge, accommodating the source codes produced by the administrations and freely accessible, and not of ‘a simple portal listing the links to codes hosted on external forges. ”

Long-awaited Defense and National Education

The various ministries (except that of Transformation and the Civil Service, which must do more), notes the libriste association, “will have to develop by July 15 a roadmap to detail the strategy of their own ministries, which will be published by September 15, 2021. Roadmaps which should ‘systematically integrate objectives relating to the management, openness, circulation and sharing of data, algorithms and source codes’. As such, it will be particularly interesting to see how the Ministry of the Armed Forces or of National Education, to name but a few, will manage to reconcile these objectives with their very strong historical dependence on certain proprietary software publishers, Microsoft in head. We are also still awaiting the publication of a study on the implementation of the completely free workstation which would be carried out within the Ministry of the Armed Forces.

As such, April recalls that there are already very good initiatives within the administration which are obviously struggling to be amplified. Thus, let us mention for example the Interministerial Base of Free Software (SILL) or the policy of contribution to the free software of the State… implemented by agents of DINUM. ”

April notes in passing the refusal of the Ministry of Health to make the source code of the Health Data Hub public, a refusal which has just been validated by the Commission for Access to Administrative Documents: CADA rejected the access request from the SantéNathon collective to the source codes of the Health Data Hub. April’s conclusion: “The circular gives encouraging signs, of course, but the current inertia within the State where opacity and operations in silos always seem to be the rule encourages us to reserve as long as decisions are taken. concrete will not be taken. A first step in the right direction which must therefore be confirmed. “

Read also

Government to create digital free and common software mission – February 8, 2021

After the Bothorel report, free software players demand a public strategy – January 23, 2021

The Bothorel mission on open data calls for more voluntarism in favor of free software – December 31, 2020

Health Data Hub: no zero risk in terms of data transfer across the Atlantic, according to the Council of State – October 14, 2020

Microsoft-Defense open bar contract: April points to the army “victim of Stockholm syndrome” – October 2, 2017

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