Hackers Fight Censorship, Human Rights Violations

Hacker group announces license agreement designed to prevent governments, corporations from using its software to censor Internet content or subvert human rights.

A hacker group on Tuesday released a novel license agreement that gives end-users the power to enforce the agreement and sue governments and other entities that misuse software covered by the license.

The Hacktivismo Enhanced-Source Software License Agreement (HESSLA) is designed to prevent governments, corporations and other organizations from using Hacktivismos applications to censor Internet content or subvert human rights, the group said. The license is based on the open-source concept of transparency but builds in some unique legal provisions designed to make the applications user base a volunteer enforcement army.

"We tried to create a licensing regime that balanced the transparency of open-source software with protecting the special needs of our end-users, most of whom are living behind national firewalls," said Oxblood Ruffin, founder of Hacktivismo, an offshoot of the well-known Cult of the Dead Cow hacker collective. "Weve been accused of using the license as a publicity tool, but thats really a cheap shot. Granted it will achieve a certain short-lived notoriety with the press, but weve got our eye focused on the end-game."

Under the HESSLA, users are free to make changes to applications covered by the license and redistribute them, but the agreement also gives them the right to sue if they find someone using the application for malicious purposes. There is also a provision that dictates if any government uses the software as part of a scheme that violates human rights, the government thereby waives its right to sovereign immunity from prosecution in foreign courts.

"In other words, if Myanmar or China want to keep violating human rights, then they have no choice but to steer clear of Hacktivismos software," the group said in its release announcing the user agreement.

The concept of sovereign immunity essentially protects governments from being sued without their consent.