I wanted to go to the international conference on semantic web to be held in October 2009 near Washington. So I try to apply for US visa. There seems to be no way for a person to apply for US visa without using MS Internet Explorer. Firefox/Mozilla based browsers don’t work. In protest to this unfair practice, I have written the following open letter to the Ambassador of United States in India.
2nd October 2009
Dr. Nagarjuna G. Reader(F), Homi Bhabha Centre, TIFR, V.N. Purav Marg, Mankhurd Mumbai 400088
Ambassador Timothy J. Roemer The Ambassador of United States of America
Sub – An Open Letter Addressed to the Ambassador of the United States, Department of State
I write to bring to your notice an unfair practice followed by the U.S. Embassy in India, Department of State, namely, an imposition on all citizens to use a particular proprietary commercial software in order to submit their application for visa.
This is how it happens.
All applications for a U.S. visa from India are done through the Visa Facilitation Services (VFS). The procedure is to first pay the visa fee, wait for two days or till the number gets activated, and then proceed through the filling of forms at the website (http://www.vfs-usa.co.in). As I did the above, along the way I found that the VFS site did not work with my Mozilla Firefox browser. On inquiring with VFS I found that the site works with Microsoft Internet Explorer only.
As a regular user of the GNU/Linux operating system, I do not use any proprietary software either at work or at home, hence I found this an unwarranted restriction on my individual freedom.
Despite these reservations I borrowed a friend’s laptop which runs the proprietary Microsoft Operating System, filled my form, and got an appointment for the 1st of October 2009. I was pressured into doing this, having already paid Rs. 57,000/- as registration fee for attending a conference (http://iswc2009.semanticweb.org/), having then paid the visa processing fee of about Rs. 6,000/-, and having requested for, and granted, financial support for my air-travel from my office (http://www.hbcse.tifr.res.in). With two of my presentations scheduled at the above conference, meetings fixed with professional colleagues in the U.S., and the time running out, I thought too much was at stake, let me compromise on my moral values and follow the advice of the VFS.
However, on reflecting on the situation I felt that this compromise of my principles was helping promotion of the unfair use of non-inter operable technology to impose restrictions on citizens. As the Chairperson of Free Software Foundation of India I have been advocating the use of free software like the GNU/Linux operating system and non-proprietary browsers and application for every citizen. As a part of my professional commitment, I develop free software, and my visit to the USA, is for the purpose of presenting my free software to the International community. My conscience thus does not permit to go ahead and attend the interview as scheduled.
I consider it a serious infringement of individual freedom when the U.S. Embassy in India, Department of State, endorses and promotes the use of a specific operating system and a software application, while other competing applications, like Mozilla Firefox, and GNU/Linux operating system, could have also performed the same job if the software used was inter operable and standards complaint. If the U.S. Embassy agrees that it is an unfair restriction, I expect that you would ask VFS to fix the problem as soon as possible. Not fixing this problem would amount to a support of monopoly trade practices and non-adherence to interoperability by the U.S. Government.
Until this problem is fixed, or unless I am assured that it will be fixed sooner rather than later, I have decided, as a mark of protest, not to apply again for a visa interview to visit the United States.
I urge that you do not interpret this gesture as mark of disrespect for your country. I have enormous regard for the way individual liberty as well as intellectual freedom is valued and protected within the United States. I would definitely be happy to reconsider my decision if I receive a positive response from you on this issue.
I have to leave for U.S. on 21st of October 2009, so time is running out. I request you to please respond as early as possible and restore my faith that the U.S. will respect individual freedom and provide me an option that will not enforce the use of Microsoft Internet Explorer for taking my next appointment.
“You may never know what results come from your action. But if you do nothing, there will be no result.” –Mahatma Gandhi
It is with this spirit that I write this letter on the birthday of one of the greatest freedom fighters, Mahatma Gandhi.