All you can do when there's no code and no community is trust the commercial supplier, the only party with access to the source. We discovered in 2013 that trust was widely misplaced. Proprietary software companies were found using that data, as we had expected, but they were also found -- beyond the wildest paranoia of the best-folded tin hat -- to have permitted access to the code to the NSA and other security services.
What can we expect from 2014? Undoubtedly more of the same when it comes to digital rights abuses. Neither the British nor the U.S. governments are showing much contrition, and public alarm is depressingly muted. But we can also expect the growing realization that open source is important. Control or be controlled. Stay free to use, study, improve, and share the product you legitimately acquired, or be monitored by it.
Equally we can expect open knowledge and open data to become more than just policy fashion statements as they were last year. Efforts still need to be made to advance open data, because so far, words and intentions have been followed by very few actions. Just as with the free software movement, the concept is deeper than just "free stuff." It aims to open up access to certain categories of resources for completely unrestricted use. The result will be to foster education, innovation, transparency, and competition.
Further on the horizon, open currency presents huge challenges to established policy by providing a substrate for low-friction and border-independent transactions. With the advent of Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, the alternative economy we've heard about for years is no longer a dream. In 2013, cryptocurrency was perhaps still a Wild West of marginally legal intents. But the closure of Silk Road together with increasing acknowledgement by governments and financial institutions means the road ahead is unfolding.
They year ahead could be the year in which what I term "the meshed society" takes hold. The meshed society is composed of individuals connected globally as peers without the need for intermediaries, empowered to be creators as well as consumers, repurposers as well as users. Open source, open knowledge, and open currency all empower the meshed society. In 2014 we will see emergent innovation as those concepts finally find one another. The new year holds so much promise.
[Thanks to Alexandra Combes for her extensive help with this essay.]
This article, "The state of digital freedom in 2014," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Read more of the Open Sources blog and follow the latest developments in open source at InfoWorld.com. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.