I found this while researching this interview. It seems messy, to say the least.
A government investing in free and open source software, rather than in proprietary solutions, is always a wonderful thing (unless it’s a poor implementation…). When I heard about India’s DigiLocker project, which is built on ownCloud, I was excited to learn more and grateful when someone from ownCloud was able to connect me with the project team.
I emailed the questions to the project team and they sent me back one document, so the answers below are the work of:
- Debabrata Nayak, Project Director, DigiLocker
- Amit Ranjan, Product Architect, DigiLocker
- Amit Jain, Product Manager
- Amit Savant, Technology Product Manager
DigiLocker is an interesting project with a lot of potential, but I was also happy to learn about the Indian government’s other open source software plans, including a git repository. Imagine if every nation shared its code. Imagine what that would mean for the developing world. Heck. I’m American and I would love it if states shared code with each other. Do we really need at least 50 different DMV systems?
Obviously, a project like this throws up a lot of red flags, for me, as an American, in terms of privacy, because I live in a country with laws like this. But the project would work well in more privacy-mindful countries (there are some concerns about Aadhaar, India’s project to assign its citizens unique identification numbers—DigiLocker uses it for digital identity and e-sign/digital signatures; I feel hyprocritical critiquing it as I live in a country where citizens are assigned Social Security numbers).
These complex issues aside, DigiLocker is a huge project and proof that free and open source software scales.
- Can you briefly describe the DigiLocker project? What was its goal?
DigiLocker is a key initiative under Digital India, Government of India’s flagship program aimed at transforming India into a digitally empowered society and knowledge economy.
It is targeted at paperless governance. It is a platform to issue and verify certificates/documents digitally and thus eliminate the use of physical documents. Indian citizens who sign up for DigiLocker get free dedicated cloud storage space.
Organizations that are registered with DigiLocker can push digital copies of documents/certificates (e.g. driving license, educational certificates) directly into citizens’ lockers. Citizens can also upload scanned copies of their legacy documents into their accounts. Citizens can share these documents with other departments while availing their services.
- How is DigiLocker connected to ownCloud? Is it built on ownCloud?
Digital Locker ecosystem has three main components:
- Citizen Lockers: A dedicated storage space for registered users to upload and store their documents.
- Documents Repositories: These are document repositories of various issuers across India. DigiLocker connects to these repositories using a gateway. The documents from these repositories are made available in citizens’ lockers in the form of a link. These documents are referred as Issued Documents.
- Gateway: The gateway connects to all issuer repositories using a standard set of APIs and provides a uniform access mechanism for other organizations and departments who want to access the documents stored in these repositories.
ownCloud is used to provide the Citizen Locker feature.
Why did you decide to go with ownCloud as a platform? Were you looking for a free and open source tool or was ownCloud just the best tool for the job?
For DigiLocker, we were looking for an enterprise scale open platform that is capable of leveraging upon other scalable technologies. This was critical for DigiLocker as we aimed at building a highly scalable product with minimal cost. We found that the ownCloud readily provides a lot of features that we were looking for. It provides a variety of option from traditional file system to distributed file system for file storage. It provides a rich set of APIs for a variety of clients. More importantly, it was available in PHP which was a language of our choice. ownCloud being an open source platform was also an important reason to selecting it. DigiLocker is built completely on open source and open stack technology. We want to showcase that a national system like this can be built using open source technologies.
What has been the response to DigiLocker?
DigiLocker has over 2.5 million registered users within just over a year of its launch. Although, its much less [impressive] considering the population of India. We expect to see more users as we connect more departments to issue documents through DigiLocker. We see a lot of excitement in users to receive important documents in digital format, such as drivers licenses, vehicle registrations and educational records.
What have been the security and privacy concerns about it?
Both security and privacy are important for DigiLocker as it stores personal and important citizen documents. The security is ensured with various measures:
- Standard practices: We follow standard software development practices of uniform coding standards, guidelines and reviews. We strictly follow Open Web Application Security Project (OWASP) security standards and guidelines. Every product release is reviewed and tested internally for security vulnerabilities before it is deployed.
- Application Security: We use standard practices and protocols such as 256-bit Secure Socket Layer encryption for information transmitted during any activity.
- ISO 27001 certified data center.
- Data redundancy: Data is backed-up in a secure environment with proper redundancy.
- Authentication-based sign-up: DigiLocker uses mobile or biometric authentication based sign-up via one-time password for authenticating users and allowing access to the platform.
- Timed log-out: To protect accounts from unauthorized access, our system is designed to terminate a session automatically if extended inactivity is detected.
- Security audit: The DigiLocker application has been security audited by a recognized audit agency and the application security audit certificate has been obtained and is free from the top 10 OWASP vulnerabilities. We carry out vulnerability and penetration testing before every release.
As for privacy, the data from the locker is shared only by the citizen’s explicit consent. All sharing and access activities are logged and conveyed to the users. Organizations that need access to citizens’ certificates need to register on DigiLocker and seek explicit consent from the citizen.
Are you looking at other places to implement free and open source software in government? In which areas?
Yes, we are. In fact, the Government of India released its open source policy in July 2015. The policy not only promotes the use of open source technologies in all government areas but also encourages releasing the source code of government applications under open source license in as many applications as possible. We are working on developing a GitHub-like platform to host the source code of government projects. Many of these will be available under open source license. This will promote the reuse of tools and technologies within the Indian government.
What other government applications do you see for ownCloud?
Various government departments provide documents/certificates to citizens through different services. Citizens apply for these services by providing proof of identity and proof of address. This is a standard practice all over the world. We feel that ownCloud can be used as a platform between citizens and the government to issue, verify and share the necessary documents and certificates. With proper identity and authentication mechanisms with ownCloud, governments can provide counterless/contactless services to citizens, just as DigiLocker is aiming to provide.
Nextcloud, the fork of ownCloud looks like it will be an interesting case study in terms of open source businesses. I’m rooting for them.
The OwnCloud fork, Nextcloud, looks like it’ll be pretty impressive.
As lots of other people have pointed out, things can get confusing when your open source project is also a for-profit company. I think this will clarify roles better.
So Carla is awesome and I want to be her friend. She’s got a wide variety of interests and they’re all fascinating. But her non-Linux interests aside, her Linux philosophy mirrors mine: create a workflow that works for you and your team and use tools that work for you, but also for your team. These are the strengths of Linux that are mostly ignored in enterprise IT, where it’s all about everybody using the same setup, regardless of what they are trying to accomplish. But I don’t put this all on IT departments. Users need to learn their tools better and become better advocates for themselves. It’s not about IT vs. End Users. We’re all on the same team—both sides just sometimes don’t act like we are.
- Who are you, and what do you do?
Who am I? The shortest answer I have is “restless seeker.” You know how some people work in the same job their whole lives and then retire? I can’t even do something I enjoy for that long. I’ve had multiple businesses: auto mechanic/handyma’am, landscaping and housecleaning, massage therapist, freelance system and network administrator, and freelance author and editor. I wrote three books (Linux Cookbook, Linux Networking Cookbook, and Book of Audacity) and hundreds of how-to articles for various online publications. I’ve had an assortment of jobs: janitor, pill packer (working on an assembly line re-packaging over-the-counter vitamins and drugs), editor/tech journalist, and now I work full-time for ownCloud as a technical writer. I figure I’ll work until I die because I don’t have much in the way of financial security, but I’d rather do work I enjoy than work only for a paycheck.
I’ll never be bored because I have more interests than I will ever have time to explore: musician, audio producer, photographer, woodworker…I live on a little farm with my splendid significant other, two horses, three cats, two dogs, and assorted wildlife and neighbor’s animals that come to visit. I have some ideas on indoor farming that I’m trying to find time to test. I’ve read about big operations that grow food on stacks of racks lit with LED lights, and usually the heat from the lights is all they need. They’re also water-efficient, which is huge as good, clean water becomes scarcer. My current new skill I am learning is sharpening knives on a belt grinder (Kalamazoo 1SM). That will make a nice little sideline that gets me up from the computer.
I also have a backlog of story ideas I want to write. Someday!
Why do you use Linux?
I adore Linux because I can do what I want on it. My first PC way back in 1994ish was an Apple something. It was fun, and then I got an IBM PC running Windows 3,1 and DOS 5. Windows was useless, so I spent a lot of time in DOS. Then I learned about Linux and never looked back. And Windows is still useless, and Apple is too confining. They both have their little walled gardens, and their primary purpose is lock-in and to keep selling you junk whether you want it or not, and whether or not it’s any good. They think they retain ownership of your stuff that you have purchased, which is a concept that needs to die.
Linux fits my temperament. I’ve always been a tinkerer. I tear things apart, I fix things, I make things, and I make them to suit me. It’s way more fun to tinker than to just buy things and push buttons. It’s a little scary to me how the younger generations are so lacking in manual skills, so I try to encourage and lead by example. Which reminds me, I’m way behind on my blog, carlaschroder.com. I switched from Drupal to WordPress and haven’t migrated all the articles yet. Every time I post something maker- and do-it-yourself- related, like baking bread from home-milled flour, learning to work out with weights, photography, or whatever, it gets a lot of traffic, which is encouraging—people want to know about this stuff.
What distribution do you run on your main desktop/laptop?
I used Debian on servers and Ubuntu was my fave desktop for several years, but now I’m running Linux Mint on my desktops and laptops. There is a lot of nice engineering in Ubuntu, and I think people forget what
a giant step forward it was. But to me, Mint feels like that last 5% of polish and I like it a lot. For example, I had some chronic USB problems on Ubuntu that disappeared with Mint, and Mint also handles attaching Android devices more nicely.
What desktop environment do you use and why do you use it?
I used to be a huge KDE fan, and I still like it. But Cinnamon on Mint is beautiful—it’s like it has all stuff I like in KDE without the overhead and clutter. It has desklets, and wallpaper slideshow, and a configurable panel so I am never more than a click or two away from the apps I use the most.
I also like Fluxbox and Xfce, and I’m comfortable in the console. The neat thing about Linux is I get both the console and the GUI together seamlessly, so I can build extremely efficient workflows.
What one piece of software do you depend upon with this distribution? Why is it so important?
The Kate text editor and Konsole are my main work tools at ownCloud. We use Git and Github, so I spend most of my workday working in plain text. Kate and Konsole are both very configurable and customizable, so again, I can construct an efficient workflow and get things done with a minimum of bumbling around.
I can’t pick just one. My other main apps are Digikam for managing photographs, Raw Therapee for editing photos, and Audacity and Kdenlive for audio-video production.
What kind of hardware do you run this setup on?
I always build my own PCs. My current machine is a couple years old, and handles all the crazy experiments I throw on it just fine:
- Intel Core i7-4770K Haswell 3.5GHz LGA 1150 84W Quad-Core CPU
- CORSAIR Vengeance 16GB DDR3 SDRAM DDR3 1600
- Cooler Master mechanical tenkey-less keyboard with Cherry brown keys
- Seagate Barracuda ST2000DM001 2TB 7200 RPM 64MB Cache SATA 6.0Gb/s 3.5" Internal Hard Drive
- Another 2TB hard drive (I forget what)
- Onboard audio, plus a MobilePre USB audio interface connected to a glorious old Pioneer stereo amp and studio monitor speakers
- Saffire Pro 26 I/O firewire audio interface
- 24" Viewsonic monitor
- Quiet Antec LifeStyle Solo case. I adore Antec cases. They are quiet and easy to work in.
- Some kind of big ol’ quiet power supply
Plus various headsets, USB optical drives, card readers, and all kinds of crazy stuff.
Will you share a screenshot of your desktop?
Interview conducted January 18, 2015
This is great news for ownCloud and makes me confident ownCloud will always be a Linux-friendly option.
You might remember Jos from his The Linux Setup interview here.