Calls: Send in your ideas. Deadline February 1st, 2021.

Identity, privacy & presence

"Privacy is not a crime"

The right to confidentiality is part of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It is also one of the basic premises for a free and open society. In recent years we have seen a digital divide of privacy emerge. Governments and the private sector are arming themselves with privacy enhancing technologies using overlay networks and cryptography, sometimes even creating their own separate infrastructures for private communication. They are driven to do this by the increasing privacy threats of modern communication: tracking and tracing, data retention, uncontrollable 'lawful intercept' and data harvesting. The less financially endowed are left without much protection.

The banner of the 'war on terror' has been misused to alter the fabric of the societies it claims to protect, in many cases almost beyond recognition. A technology push has resulted in the burden of proof principle subtly but undeniably being inverted. More and more citizens are unwillingly and unknowingly the subject of investigation without being concretely suspected. Possible relieving facts are kept out of their view, and in most cases they have no access to information collected about them, denying their right of self-defence.

The end-to-end principle of the internet and its international character allows for technological measures that can restore some of the privacy and sovereignty of the more vulnerable nation states that has been taken away by interception of communication, tracking, tracing, logging and data warehousing. There is also a window of opportunity: at this moment several billion dollar industries clash as tectonic plates against each other around real-time communication. All forms of voice communication and video conferencing are moving over to the internet in one way or the other. On the other hand there is a definite convergence of instant messaging and online collaboration technologies towards using interoperable standards. This is all about the presence of the same user. It is our goal to ultimately have all presence related services consolidated into strong and robust standards that guarantee interoperability and --by design-- protect privacy.

Another aspect of confidentiality is private data of all kinds. The data concerning everything and everyone is now not only available to government institutions, but is being more and more collected and (mis)used by commercial entities. In these cases citizens can impossibly control the information. All kind of data --location data of mobile operators, videocameras on highways, in streets and shops, credit card and payment chip data, easy location tracability due to RFID chips in your clothes, emails and browsing behaviour-- are being collected both by the government and by private organisations and are coupled to each other to produce a complete track of a person. Thus, a transparent picture of the whole private life of the citizen is created and utilized for often not clear purposes.

Privacy must not be a luxury, and everyone should be able to afford it.

We believe in safe, trustworthy and robust real-time presence and session technology as an enabler for privacy. The foundation will focus on technology development as well as creating awareness, and will be actively pursuing the further enhancement of online privacy and standardisation in internet based communication and presence tools.

Projects and activities within this theme:

  • Bits of Freedom (seized its activities on 1 September 2006)
    Bits of Freedom is a privacy and digital rights organisation. Major topics of concern to Bits of Freedom are copyright, the balance between law enforcement and privacy, freedom of speech, and spam.
  • BIND (Berkeley Internet Name Domain)
    An implementation of the Domain Name System protocols and provides an openly redistributable reference implementation of the major components of the Domain Name System. Its architecture has been designed to take advantage of new computer technology (multi-threading) and to provide full support for new features required by IPv6 and DNSsec.
  • MAPS
    A service to limit the transport of known-to-be-unwanted mass e-mail based on the address of the sending MTA (Mail Transfer Agent).
  • OpenMSRP
    Message Session Relay Protocol. Implementation of an Open Source MSRP relay based on IETF specifications RFC4975 and RFC4976 and multi-party IM chat server.
  • CAcert
    A non-profit community-oriented Certificate Authority that provides a general service to the community by issuing, where possible, free X.509(v3) certificates for personal and/or server-side use. CAcert services the Open Source digital certificate security needs of users across six continents. Certificates issued by the nonprofit CA form the foundation for many server-side (web) and personal (email) security implementations.
  • Jabber
    As formalized in the Extensible Messaging and Presence Protocol (XMPP), is a set of decentralized, open technologies for near-real-time messaging, presence, and streaming XML. The focus of this project is to improve the security and trust characteristics of Jabber technologies.
  • Turtle
    Aims at the creation of a peer-to-peer (P2P) infrastructure for safe sharing of sensitive data. The truly revolutionary aspect of Turtle rests in its novel way of dealing with trust issues. Where other P2P architectures attempt to build trust relationships on top of a trust-agnostic P2P overlay, Turtle builds its overlay on top of pre-existent trust relationships among its users. This allows both data sender and receiver anonymity.

Open Document Format

Disruptive technology in disguise

The standardisation of the Open Document Format (ISO 26300:2006) took five years of hard work within OASIS. In 2006 the unanimous approval of this XML-based universal Office-format within the International Standards Organisation ISO meant a clear slope change point for innovation and market reach of open standards and open source in general. Governments, companies and individuals quickly recognised the enormous importance of having a way of encoding information that is truly portable across applications, operating systems and vendors as well as not having any problems crossing the barriers of time.

ODF spawned a collective move away from company-dictated file formats that can only be adequately opened by a single application from a single vendor. We now understand that we want open standards that are oblivious with respect to the software used to generate or edit them. Good formats like ODF make global interoperability and the free flow of information a reality, which is a real breakthrough for the entire ICT world. The huge amount of active support ODF received from the ICT industry itself --and from society at large too-- is a testimony to that fact.

Society doesn't change overnight, although the pace is astounding. In the past twenty years the lack of a mature open standard for information exchange at the document level has caused a very unhealthy de facto monoculture with fallout well beyond the operating system and productivity software where things started. These negative consequences move far beyond the economic realm and range from an increased digital divide and innovation poverty to large-scale cyber criminality and botnets such as Storm that are able to almost push countries off the internet.

A self-imposed social acceptance of closed formats is sometimes difficult to break through, but with the dominant binary formats of the past being deprecated by their vendors themselves the situation looks very bright. The market has learned from the past, and with the file format decoupled from the applications there is no learning curve, a low cost of switching and most of all: an open market for innovation. And that is what we are seeing: great innovations taking place because people can move into the containers they were locked out for decades.

Open Document Format is vendor independent and it's proven technology. It starts at no cost with full functionality and fidelity. And there are no hidden tricks, no opportunities for sabotage of inconvenient competitors. Because many of the leading players in the ODF arena (such as IBM Lotus Symphony, OpenOffice, KOffice, Abiword, the various plugins for Microsoft Word) are open source applications, there is 'full disclosure' and a very efficient 'best of breed' model built around ODF.

NLnet foundation sees ODF as a key technology for the future of our society, which is why we plan to significantly fund a number of efforts in the area of ODF. From tools for collaboration to contributing to standardisation, from education and raising awareness to developer libraries --we will be doing our best to contribute where possible.

Activities within this theme:

  • OpenDoc Society
    NLnet was one of the original founding members of OpenDoc Society, an organisation that was launched on October 23rd 2007 at the premises of the Royal Library by the Dutch Minister of Foreign Economic Affairs Frank Heemskerk and ODF editor Patrick Duruseau. Contributors of the European Commission and the Belgian government were present too. Over fifty organisations have already joined the OpenDoc society, including cultural institutions, educational institutions, training companies, military organisations and open source projects. With members in thirteen countries the OpenDoc Society and new members being added to this platform almost every day OpenDoc Society is rapidly taking shape as an important platform to make our common vision of an open information society come true.
    A tool in development to collaborate in ODF-applications with a large amount of people realtime. Will be both available as a plugin for existing Office tools like and KOffice, as well as in a standalone (commandline) tool.