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Opening the Sources of Accountability

Thursday, January 1, 2004


This paper scrutinizes the concept of accountability in light of free and open source software. On the view that increasing accountability grants value to society by motivating those most likely and able to prevent risk and harm to do so, the author argues that while developing software collaboratively, licensing it openly, and distributing its source code freely are promising first steps in the long journey to rehabilitate accountability in our highly computerized society, our very understanding of what accountability is changes too. This paper analyzes the concept of accountability in an open environment and explores the implications in two mission–critical application fields in which software plays a significant role — electronic voting, and electronic medical records. It further considers the potential remedies to accountability's erosion that free and open source software offer, and the ways in which accountability can be generalized to collective action if we understand it less as punishability and more as a culture that encourages the prevention of risk and harm.

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