India Stack must be free, open.

IndiaStack develops what it calls the foundation / building blocks of a Digital India.

The blocks present in India Stack layer, including Aadhar and software products on top of it (E-Sign, E-KYC, Digital Locker), UPI fundamentally changes the way citizens interact / transact with government institutions / systems. Some of these platforms provide great convenience to citizens, remove bureaucratic red-tape.

Architecture of India Stack
India Stack

India Stack is a set of APIs / programmable interfaces which lets developers (both govt / private) interact with systems (Aadhar, Banking) and build applications. The Unified Payments Interface applications are great examples of this. A lot of innovation has happened here, at least some for the good; scope for much more is out there.

India Stack has immense potential and is now reduced to a fraction of it by just following “Open API Policy”. MeITY has notified all government systems must follow Open API Policy (doc).

Open API Policy != Open Gov Policy

While the APIs are opened up, the back-end systems are still built behind the closed doors. The applications are built on these APIs are limited by back-end. The back-end defines the system, while APIs just provide a way to build interfaces, let systems interact with each other.

Open API policy doesnt empower citizens if the development of APIs is not truly democratic. An inclusive way of development is involving citizens (not just developers, startup entrepreneurs) in development of Stack. When democracy is going digital by use of tech, so should representation be. In an ideal world, governments decide on law, policy and then tech is built on it ensuring development is after a democratic parliamentary debate. But in a disrupting world, where disrupting seem to be norm, technology is being built with out consideration of governance, bureaucracy, citizens, all other participating stakeholders.

While waiting on parliament to sit and debate could be hard in a country like India, hearing views and following an open model of development is nothing new for Internet / IT sectors. Well established open source models have created large number of IT systems that power the world today(including large business’ which rely on them). Ignoring participatory options that are parliamentary / democratic would only lead to legal logjams and is last thing a developer wants (Write code and wait for judge to learn programming and pronouncing a judgement if the code can run.) and our society wants.

The following are my demands for India Stack

  • India Stack, if it builds products for India / Indian citizens must involve citizens as stakeholders in development of software / systems, not just  investors, entrepreneurs, developers, regulators.
  • India Stack must publish their back-end code in compatible Free & Open source license, follow an open model in development of APIs. Use mailing lists, wikis, other open collaboration tools.
  • India Stack should not have any artificial / institutional barriers that let only startups build products. Communities / Developers must be able to build products and price them independently. I am not against commercialization of products and services, but please be competitive in allowing FOSS solutions with the ecosystem.
  • Develop technology laws in parallel, Unregulated code is the last innovation needed. Developers, “Investors”, will not spend time on a sector that has no legal framework, will have no motivation to develop using the APIs.

Developers of governance stacks, imagine if your worst political enemy gets your code. Think, develop. Do not build weapons of algorithmic destruction. (WMD)

PS : The meaning of free(dom) in this article refers to free libre, not free gratis

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