PhpGedView, SourceForge and the US Government

I originally installed PhpGedView back in 2007. It’s an open source and free web program for managing family trees and based on the universal Gedcom file format commonly used in many genealogical websites and applications. I’ve been using it on and off for several years very successfully – all credit to the open source programmers – with very few problems. However its been on my TODO list to upgrade since maybe 2008. I finally got around to updating it.

Screenshot of the webtrees homepage.

I’d made a few changes of my own, but in the end it was a fairly easy upgrade, just back up a few files and replaced the rest. However, while I was downloading the latest version I noticed there had only been a single update in over a year – quite unusual for a popular open source project – so I did a little investigation into why that was.

It turns out that during 2010 many of the programmers left the project in protest against decisions by the US government and PhpGedView’s hosting site, Sourceforge. Specifically, SourceForge acted on a 2003 US Law that says (something along the lines of) open source code must not contain encryption technology that could be used against the US by “rogue states”. However the official wording is so vague that it could be said that source containing any kind of encryption could be breaking the law – this includes such normal valid use as encrypting user passwords!

Now it’s pretty hard to think of a way that an application for creating family trees could ever compromise national security but as it was hosted at SourceForge who themselves are located in the US, it was automatically under the same laws, and so SourceForge blocked all access from people from such places as Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Sudan, and Syria and any other place the US “don’t like”. However, very soon SourceForge where forced to make changes as many of the users became outraged with the blocking. So now its the project owners who have the responsibility to comply with US law. They are asked if they’d like to unblock their project by making a claim to the US government but if they are deemed to have broken the – as I mentioned earlier “vague” – law they’d risk imprisonment.

This kind of program impacts a hell of a lot of projects and at many hosting sites (e.g. GoogleCode) who host in the US. The only option in many cases is to close the project and move or abandon the 170 million users who have been blocked. Thankfully the phpgedview developers didn’t want to let their users down (from any country) so they instead forked the project in to a new one called webtrees and hosted the website at one outside the US – LaunchPad – hosting by Canonical right here in the UK. (Lets always keep our laws in perspective!).

So, would I stay with a crippled PhpGedView or do a (possibly) difficult switch to webtrees and support there protest? Obviously, there was no choice, I moved to webtrees. And thankfully it turned out to be very easy to switch by using their “import from PhpGedView” option which went through smoothly. I now have a guilt free, UK hosted open source project very happily running on my server. Take a look here.

Thanks webtrees and thanks UK hosting! (Might have to think about moving my own projects from SourceForge…)

More information can be found here:

6 Replies to “PhpGedView, SourceForge and the US Government”

    1. Actually, I do have a few projects on Github already – and it does seem a little slicker than SourceForge, though still hosting in the US I believe.

      Only used Git on small projects though, still like the simplicity of SVN for large projects (and the versioning of course).

  1. The link at the end of the article is wrong. “webtree” should be “webtrees”.

    Greg (aka fisharebest – the owner/creator of the webtrees project).

    Glad you like it the sofware. There have been a couple of new releases since you installed. We’re now on 1.1.1, with 1.1.2 expected within the month.

    1. Cheers Greg, good spot. (And great work on webtrees!)

      And thanks for the headsup on the new version, glad to see it’s being frequently updated… now if you could just provide an auto update mechanism… ;0)

  2. I think webtree could use more programmers. I found it straightforward to install, but seems to be buggy and lacking support. As a newbie, I installed it without incident, however quickly struck a problem. That being that two wives with offspring resulted in only one wife being displayed when logged in. Despite providing database table data and GEDCOM data, the issue persists and no bug report has been raised by the developers.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.